Exiled Union Leader: Workers ‘Demanding Democracy’ in Eswatini
In Eswatini, a landlocked country in southern Africa, union workers are routinely harassed, attacked and even killed for going on strike or holding rallies. In 2021, dozens of workers were killed by security forces in what Amnesty International called “a full-frontal assault on human rights” by the government in response to ongoing pro-democracy protests. In January, prominent human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko was shot dead, hours after a speech by the king warning those calling for democratic reforms that mercenaries would deal with them.
Most recently, Sticks Nkambule, general secretary of the Swaziland Transport, Communication and Allied Workers Union (SWATCAWU), was targeted by the government for leading a strike to improve working conditions. Forced to flee Eswatini, formerly called Swaziland, Nkambule described the interconnected struggle for worker rights, human rights and democracy on the latest Solidarity Center Podcast.
“We are just demanding the basics of what could be defined as democracy. A government that is formed by the people and serving their interests,” Nkambule told Podcast host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.
“By bringing together the collective voice of all workers, unions fight for decent working conditions but also for the freedoms fundamental to all democratic societies,” Bader-Blau told Nkambule.
Despite the brutality and repression, Nkambule finds hope in the support from labor and human rights organizations around the world—and in workers themselves.
“What is quite inspiring is that the people of Swaziland are determined to be part of the conversation that is going to change their discourse. It is a reality, activists and, not just labor, beyond labor.”
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