10 March 2013

Swaziland: Another Prayer Meeting Banned

The Swaziland Government has banned a prayer meeting due to take place in the kingdom to mark the first anniversary of the formation of a trade union federation.

The government, without recourse to the law courts, announced that the intended meeting organised by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) was illegal because the Industrial Court had recently decided that TUCOSWA could not be a registered federation because there was no law in the kingdom that allowed it.

TUCOSWA wanted to hold a prayer at the Caritas Centre in Manzini yesterday (9 March 2013) to mark the first anniversary of the federation's formation.

But, the government, in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, said it did not believe it was a prayer meeting. Instead, it said, it was a disguised meeting of workers.

Government spokesperson Percy Simelane, in a statement, said the government would not allow the prayer to go ahead because it believed TUCOSWA was not a legal entity.

He said, 'The said entity [TUCOSWA] was declared not to be a workers' federation under the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act 2000, because there is no provision in the said Act for the registration of federations.'

He said consequently, TUCOSWA cannot and is not capable of convening meetings of workers or any other activities of workers involving labour relations issues.

'Any meeting or activity organised by the entity would be illegal and His Majesty's Government will not allow any such activities to be undertaken by the said entity,' he said.

He went on, 'Government has been reliably informed that there is a proposed gathering disguised as a prayer service organised by the same entity. Government has noted that the function is being organised by an entity which is neither a religious institution nor a registered federation of workers in terms of the laws of the country.'

This is not the first prayer meeting to be banned in recent weeks. On 16 February 2013 60 armed police broke up a prayer meeting at the Our Lady of Assumption cathedral in Manzini without a court order or a warrant.

Police spokesperson Inspector Khulani Mamba, said at the time they were acting on information that the prayers were a meeting to plan to disturb forthcoming national elections. The action, which contravened the Swazi Constitution's provisions on both freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, was condemned both inside and outside Swaziland.

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