More workers in Swaziland’s sugarcane industry are joining a trade union, following international condemnation of their working conditions.
The Swaziland Agricultural and Plantations Workers Union (SAPAWU) is reported to have made a positive impact to the workers. In one case at a farm with 70 employees, 50 have joined the union, the Swazi Observer newspaper reported on Friday (12 May 2017).
In 2016, the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC) published a report called, King Mswati’s gold: Workers’ rights and land confiscation in Swaziland’s sugar sector.
The ITUC said King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was one of the chief exploiters of workers. It said sugarcane production had brought about more human suffering than development in Swaziland. Many people had been evicted from land and the general conditions in the sugar industry were atrocious.
The opening sentences of the ITUC report said, ‘On 12 April 1973, King Sobhuza II decreed a national state of emergency thereby assuming total control over all aspects of Swazi public life. Political parties were banned and political activism was criminalised. Though the state of emergency was lifted in 2005, little has changed. The royal family has used Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, established in 1968 as a development fund, as the means to control the Swazi economy and to amass a large fortune.’
Tibiyo Taka Ngwane controls the sugar industry in Swaziland.
The ITUC report added, ‘The King is the sole trustee of Tibiyo and the fund is immune from all judicial review. As such, Tibiyo is able to compete unfairly in the economy, undermining local business and discouraging much-needed foreign investment (FDI).’
It added, ‘However, for workers employed in the sugar industry, the sector has no such lustre; instead, workers live in extreme poverty despite long hours and hard work generating wealth for the King. Trade union activities are highly repressed, and laws such as the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, 1938, Public Order Act of 1963 and the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008 are used to suppress trade union activity.’
On trade union recruitment, SAPAWU Secretary General Mancoba Dlamini, told the Swazi Observer, ‘Workers have realised how much they benefit from joining hard unions as their voices are heard, they can either work in the sugar fields or offices, as they are affected in the same way.’
He added that most of the workers were adamant about joining unions especially because their managers threatened and victimised them.
HUMAN SUFFERING AND SWAZI SUGAR
KING EXPLOITS SUGAR WORKERS