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Swazi court gives go-ahead for strike

Published on 27/07/2011

A Swazi court gave the go-ahead Wednesday for a two-day strike by labour unions, overturning an earlier order that granted the government a last-minute injunction blocking the mass labour protest.

Industrial Court Judge Dumsani Mazibuko dismissed the government’s urgent application to ban the strike, ruling in favour of unions that had argued the government failed to demonstrate the urgency of its request.

The decision overturned a court order granted in the early hours of Wednesday morning that stopped unions from striking over the kingdom’s moves to slash civil servants’ salaries in an effort to resolve a deepening financial crisis.

Mazibuko said unions would be allowed to go ahead with their plans Thursday and Friday.

Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) spokeswoman Mary da Silva said activists would flood the streets.

“The government has been playing a dirty game,” she said.

“We see these moves as government trying to frustrate the protest actions and buy time in their illegitimate stay in power.”

The government had argued the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland, the country’s largest labour group and the organiser of the strike, had not given authorities sufficient notice.

The stalemate over wages has dragged for months as Africa’s last absolute monarchy battles to stay solvent.

The financial crisis has left the government unable to afford petrol for its vehicles or electricity for all its offices, leaving clinics and schools struggling to stay open.

Unions say they would be willing to negotiate wage cuts if the government would reverse generous perks awarded to politicians last year.

Earlier in the day, some 200 AIDS activists who had planned to join the labour protest decided to go ahead with a march through Mbabane despite the deployment of riot police along the capital’s main roads.

They protested outside the finance ministry to demand government not interrupt the supply of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

Swaziland has the highest HIV rate in the world, with one in four adults infected with the virus.

Even small shows of defiance against King Mswati III were once rare.

But since April, anger at the financial crisis has sparked a series of demonstrations against King Mswati III, whose fortune — estimated at $100 million — places him on Forbes magazine’s list of the 15 richest monarchs in the world.

His jet-set lifestyle, with separate palaces for each of his 13 wives and posh shopping trips abroad, has caused mounting frustrations as the financial crisis deepens.

Last year Swaziland saw a 60 percent drop in revenues from a regional customs union, the government’s main source of income.

A new formula in how revenues are distributed saw Swaziland’s share slashed, a change for which the kingdom failed to budget.