Workers and students in Swaziland are expected to embark on a two-day indefinite strike action starting today (Wednesday) to press home their demand for a multi-party democracy. Although the government of King Mswati III recently introduced a new constitution, the strike leaders say political parties are still not allowed to contest general elections scheduled for next year. They are therefore demanding the introduction of a genuine system of democracy. Meanwhile the government has warned the workers against the industrial action, saying they stand a chance of losing their jobs.
Vincent Ncongwane is one of the strike leaders. He told VOA that the government would not intimidate them.
“There are three things that we are asking of this government. The first one is that we want the government to amend the text legislation. The second thing is, we have in Swaziland the provident fund. But we want the legislation to be amended to allow people who are retrenched to access their benefits under that fund. We want people to access this benefit on submission of a letter from their employer concerning their retrenchment. The last thing, Swaziland next year is going to be facing parliamentary elections, and we are saying we want to see those parliamentary elections allowing people to be elected on the basis of a political party ticket, ” Ncongwane pointed out.
He said it is not enough for the government to tell the public they have a bill of right under the new constitution.
“We have always said to government the issue of saying we’ve got a bill of right. But as things stand now, it is no more as to whether political parties are legal in Swaziland. Government itself has said that is a matter to be determined by the court. We are saying this issue… is okay on other things, but when you deal with the issue real participation within the constitution. The issue of individual merit, which is section 79 of the constitution makes a mockery of the very issue of freedom to associate,” he said.
Ncongwane said it was unfortunate that Swaziland is the only country within the sub-region that has so far refused attempts at multi-party democracy.
“In so far as Swaziland is a signatory to the SADC (Southern African Development Community) protocol on elections, which protocol even allows the funding of political parties, the question we ask ourselves is, why did they become part of that particular protocol when they know very well that in terms of the system in Swaziland, it is a mockery to talk of political parties? In fact at best it is a social club. So we are asking the government to honor its signature,” Ncongwane said.
Ncongwane said even though the government has so far resisted any attempt at democracy, the public would not rest until the country becomes democratic.
“We are aware there would be resistance, but what we cannot do is to sit back and fold our hands. We believe that we cannot be just the only ones in the region who are without a multiparty system,” he said.