Police in Swaziland stopped an open-air prayer meeting because leaders of workers' unions were present.
They said the gathering was illegal.
It happened outside the textile firm Tex Ray in Manzini on Tuesday (26 August 2014) where local media reported about 1,500 textile workers had gathered to hear a local pastor, Zandile Hlophe, preach.
The workers are concerned for their jobs after the United States dropped Swaziland from the Africa Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) which allowed the kingdom to export goods at preferential rates. The US made the move because Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has a poor record on political and workers' rights.
Media in Swaziland have predicted that as many as 20,000 jobs in the kingdom's textile industry could be lost as a result of the withdrawal of AGOA benefits that comes into force on 1 January 2015.
The Times of Swaziland newspaper reported the prayer meeting was 'supposed to last for an hour. The prayer was organised by the Swaziland United Democratic Front (SUDF) in partnership with the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA)'.
The newspaper, which is the only daily newspaper in the kingdom independent of the state, said, 'While the pastor was preaching the word of God to the workers, the police came and ordered them to vacate the venue within two minutes.
The first reason that the police gave to the organisers was that the gathering was illegal and it could not be regarded as a prayer because of the presence of union leaders.'
It added, 'SUDF Coordinator Wandile Dludlu, who was with TUCOSWA Secretary General Vincent Ncongwane and ATUSWA Secretary General Wonder Mkhonza, questioned the police's reason of stopping the prayer. Dludlu asked why they regarded the gathering as illegal and not a prayer because there was a pastor preaching.'
Police regularly break up prayer meetings in Swaziland, claiming they are 'political'. Political parties are barred from contesting elections in the kingdom and most are banned outright under an anti-terrorism law.
In the run up to the 2013 national election a number of prayer meetings were broken up by police and state forces.
In February 2013, about 60 armed police forced their way into the Our Lady of Assumption cathedral while a prayer meeting was taking place. They gave the congregation seven minutes to vacate the building.
The prayer was jointly organised by SUDF and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC). It had originally been scheduled to take place at the Bosco Skills Centre in Manzini. The venue was changed to the cathedral at the last minute after organisers realised the police intended to block people entering Bosco.
In March 2013, the Swazi Government banned a prayer meeting due to take place in Manzini to mark the first anniversary of the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA). Without recourse to the law courts, the government announced that the intended meeting was illegal because the Industrial Court had recently decided that TUCOSWA could not be a registered federation in the kingdom.