Swazi king’s aides meet with unions on protests

Swaziland’s King Mswati III has sent his top advisers to meet with union leaders in a bid to avert anti-government protests next week in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, a labour leader said on Friday.

The king’s Liqoqo Advisory Council met with union leaders late on Thursday, hours after Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini announced a ban on the protests planned to start on Tuesday, said Muzi Mhlanga, head of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.
“The king is scared of a revolution, so he sent his advisers to find out what we want,” said Mhlanga, whose group is one of the protest organisers.

“We told him we want a transitional government and multiparty democracy.”

“The king is pleading that we cancel this thing. We told him it would be difficult because the decision has already been taken by our members,” he added.

The council called a new meeting with the unions on Friday afternoon for further talks, he added.

Tightened security
Mswati’s personal secretary Mbongeni Simelane declined to comment on the meetings. The tightly controlled Times of Swaziland newspaper said Thursday’s meeting was called to hear the union’s grievances and relay them to the king.

Mswati (42) is accused of bankrupting the state coffers with his lavish lifestyle and 13 wives, who take private jets on posh overseas shopping trips.

Unions are outraged at moves to slash salaries of civil servants, which sparked the biggest protests seen in years on March 18.

Organisers plan to start protests in the capital Mbabane on Tuesday, with demonstrations planned in Swaziland’s other main centres, Manzini and Nhlangano, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Security has tightened in the small mountainous kingdom, with soldiers searching cars at the border shared with South Africa and police mounting roadblocks on highways. — Sapa-AFP

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