11 August 2014

Swaziland: PM Withdraws 'Strangle' Threat

Swaziland's Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini has apologised 'unconditionally' for saying workers' leaders should be 'strangled' for opposing his government. This followed an international campaign of condemnation.

Dlamini told the Observer on Saturday, a newspaper in Swaziland in effect owned by King Mswati III, that he did not mean to be taken literally.

'Basically, I withdraw the comments I made on the union leaders. I withdraw them unconditionally,' the newspaper reported him saying.

This came after the United States Department of State called Dlamini's comment 'threatening'.

In a statement it said, 'Such remarks have a chilling effect on labor and civil rights in the Kingdom of Swaziland.'

It added, 'The United States continues to support and defend fundamental freedoms, including freedom of association, and the human rights defenders who fight for these values each day. We call upon the Government to renounce the Prime Minister's remarks and to ensure respect for the constitutionally enshrined rights of all citizens.'

According to a report in the Times of Swaziland newspaper, the Prime Minister had said that Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) General Secretary, Vincent Ncongwane and human rights lawyer Sipho Gumedze, should be strangled because they spoke against his government in Washington.

Dlamini made the comment in a parliamentary debate about the African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA). Swaziland has lost its preferential trade status with the United States under the Act because of its poor human rights record. Dlamini blamed workers' leaders for not supporting his government and the King. King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, political parties cannot stand in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and the government.

Swaziland has a history of state violence against prodemocracy campaigners and in 2010 Sipho Jele died in custody after being arrested for wearing a T-shirt with the name of PUDEMO (a banned political party) written on it.

A campaign against Dlamini was launched on the Internet and the United States powerful union bloc the AFL-CIO also condemned him.

In a statement it called on the 'Swazi government to immediately end threats and attacks against unionists and human rights activists, release imprisoned leaders and take the needed steps to comply with international commitments'.

Explaining the U-turn, the Observer reported, 'He briefly explained, however, that he had realised that his comments were taken in the literal sense and therefore had caused unnecessary attention.'

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