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Swaziland’s Largest Urban City Set to Strike Monday

Activists demonstrate in the streets of Mbabane on July 21, 2011 to draw attention to their government's dwindling supply of anti-retroviral drugs, as Swaziland is the world's highest HIV infection rate.

The vice president of the Swaziland local Kombi transport association says members of the organization in Manzini, the country’s largest urban center, will begin an indefinite strike today (Monday).

The strike action, Sabelo Dlamini said, is to protest the arrest of one of their colleagues.

“[Police] charged one of their colleagues [$638.879] saying [the transport driver] didn’t issue a [receipt] to the customer,” said Dlamini. “So, they said no, they are putting [down] their tools. They want to strike, and they are not going to operate.”

He adds that the drivers are mostly illiterate and are not capable of petitioning the government to address their concerns.

“They said they will continue the strike until one of the conductors arrested by the police is free,” said Dlamini.

He said members of the organization feel they are being targeted by both the police as well as judges.

Dlamini said drivers and transport conductors of his organization are expressing their unhappiness with what he says is harsh police treatment for minor traffic incidents as well as the “excessive” fines by judges.

Some say the government is broke, and is having the police charge drivers exorbitant penalties in an effort to raise money. Normally, a government-backed lawyer would be assigned to defend the accused, but they have been on strike for higher wages for two months.

Dlamini alleges that the judges, who support the lawyers, refuse to lower the charges, and in some cases even increase them. A strike by the transport drivers would bring activity in the city to a halt, and pressure the government to make concessions.

“The magistrates are also lawyers by profession [and] maybe by charging this exorbitant amount to the conductors or the drivers,’ maybe they are [thinking that] if [they] can provoke the drivers or the conductors, it will be best because they are the ones who show a strong strike than any other organization,” said Dlamini. “So we think that it is a tactic between the lawyers and the magistrates.”