Police in Swaziland fired teargas and water as a peaceful strike turned ugly.
Workers at Ubombo Sugar (also known as Illovo) have been on strike for more than three weeks for more pay. The company is partly owned by King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.
One newspaper said 1,000 workers were involved, while a second newspaper put the figure at 2,000. The Swazi state police the Operational Support Services Unit (OSSU) were guarding the sugar plant on behalf of the company's management when the attacks took place, according to local media reports.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, blamed the workers for the violence, but workers' leader Swaziland Agricultural Plantations and Allied Workers Union (SAPAWU) Secretary General Archie Sayed said peaceful negotiations were taking place when the police attacked.
He told the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom's only independent daily newspaper, if the police had not fired tear gas towards the demonstrating workers, the situation could have remained calm.
Workers on Swaziland's sugar plantations are among the most heavily exploited sections of the working class. Workers at Ubombo are paid R1,500 (US$150) a month with the possibility to increase this to R2,000 if they work Sundays - a full seven-day week.
Workers want a 14 percent pay increase, which would bring their basic pay to R1,710 a month.
In a statement, the Communist Party of Swaziland said, 'Low pay and bad working conditions typify the entire sugar-producing sector in Swaziland.'
It added, 'Last year, Ubombo Sugar made a profit of R272 million, making it the third largest contributor of profits to the Illovo group.
'Illovo's profits for 2013, meanwhile, were over R1.9 billion, way up from R1.1 billion in 2012. Ubombo increased its share of profits for the corporation by 17% for the first half of last year alone, double that of 2012.'
The statement added, 'In 2013 it expanded operations at Ubombo in a drive to intensify production and profits.
'These profits come from the surplus value generated by Swazi workers, whose pay is many times less than the value of their output.'
The statement added that 40 percent of the shares in Ubombo were owned by King Mswati through the conglomerate Tibiyo Taka Ngwane.