A strike of thousands of public sector workers that brought Swaziland’s second city to a standstill was marred by violence on Wednesday.
Police spokesperson Vusi Masuku said protests degenerated late on Wednesday when at least two shops were looted and one person was detained for violent acts.
Many stores shut down as demonstrators marched through the city.
Schools and government factories were also closed, while hospitals and banks were forced to run skeleton services during the strike, called by the country’s main trade union body to denounce the current system of government which ensures that absolute power resides in the hands of King Mswati III.
Civil servants demand the introduction of multi-party democracy.
The protestors carried banners and chanted songs that warned: ”We are tired of being oppressed, we want better living.”
Gugu Malindzis, deputy head of the Swaziland Federation of Labour, said that the government had to listen to the concerns of the population.
”We want to force the government to pay attention to our demands,” he said. ”People are not getting an accurate picture, about the situation of the workers and how we are being governed.”
”There are no lessons in school anywhere today as most teachers are here,” said Stones Ginindza, general secretary of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.
”Even though we have got exams [due to be held in early August], we are facing a time of crisis and so no teacher is going to sit down and think about preparing the students unless the government honours our demands.
”If they do not respond to our call, I’m afraid this is going to continue.”
A two-day stoppage by public sector workers was to have begun in the capital Mbabane but organisers were forced to have a last-minute rethink after failing to get authorisation from the security services.
Instead they made Manzini, where they had planned to strike on Thursday, the centre of their protests and hundreds of unionists made the 30-minute journey by bus from the capital in a show of solidarity.
Unions and rights groups are hoping that their show of strength will lead to a dismantling of the traditional tinkhundla system of government under which King Mswati III retains full executive, legislative and judicial powers.
Despite the introduction of a new constitution in February 2006, political parties are still not allowed to contest general elections scheduled for next year and are demanding a genuine system of democracy.
Landlocked Swaziland is one of the poorest countries in Africa and has the highest rate of HIV/Aids in the world — with more than 40% of adults infected.
Seventy percent of the 1,1-million citizens live on less than one United States dollar a day. – Sapa-AFP