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Swaziland Group Demands Answers from Minister Over AGOA

  • Peter Clottey

The general secretary of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) says members will protest Minister of Labor and Social Security Winnie Magagula’s appearance before parliament on Thursday.

Vincent Ncongwane said Swaziland is set to lose about 17,000 jobs after the country was thrown out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) initiative over the country’s poor human rights record.

“Our members are mobilizing for protest action. Of course the challenge is that they have ensured that they are prepared to crash any protest, but that is what our members are mobilizing to do,” said Ncongwane. “We want to hear from the minister as to what is it that this government have in mind as with regards to AGOA, beyond just misleading the international community.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini has apologized to Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze after he called for them to be strangled for criticizing the government.

Dlamini said repeated criticisms of the administration by the labor union leader and the human rights attorney contributed to Swaziland losing its trade privileges provided by AGOA.

The U.S. State Department released a statement expressing concern about the prime minister’s statement.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the threatening remarks made by Swaziland Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini toward Swazi labor and civil society leaders who participated in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington this week. Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.”

“The United States continues to support and defend fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, and the human rights defenders who fight for these values each day. We call upon the government to renounce the prime minister’s remarks and to ensure respect for the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens,” the statement said.

Ncongwane said the prime minister only publicly apologized and withdrew his comments following local and international condemnation and has yet to officially call labor and civil society leaders.

“The retraction in our view can only have come about because of the pressure, which he did not [think] was going to come at him from both locally and outside the country,” said Ncongwane.

He says TUCOSWA will continue to oppose government policies that do not benefit union members and the country.

“[The government] has abysmally failed to address the benchmark that would have ensured that we did not get thrown out of AGOA. And these are benchmarks it willingly undertook in Geneva in 2013,” said Ncongwane.