14 April 2014 – Basil Thwala, legal advisor to the Swaziland Transport & Allied Workers’ Union (STAWU), was released from prison this weekend.
ITF affiliate STAWU has been fighting to free Thwala since 2012, when he was arrested and charged on a picket line protest. Swaziland is one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies, and has a record of trade union rights abuses.
In February the ITF sent an international mission to Swaziland, which visited Thwala in prison and ramped up the pressure for his release. The mission met with the United States embassy regarding Thwala’s case. US unions, supported by the ITF and ITUC, then cited the case in a submission to the US Department of Trade, which is about to review a special trade agreement with Swaziland – the AGOA. The agreement contains basic labour rights standards within its conditions.
The surprise decision to release Thwala came days before the US Department of Trade conducts a review of the AGOA agreement with Swaziland.
This move may not be enough to save Swaziland losing its trade agreement. A number of activists from the Swaziland national trade union centre, TUCOSWA, are under arrest following a demonstration last week. There are also reports that police abducted pro-democracy leaders in a bid to stop the demonstration from going ahead. The ITUC is leading the international labour movement response to rights abuses in Swaziland.
STAWU president Vusie Mabuza said: “Basil suffered severe injustice that we shall not let pass unpunished. We shall ensure a price is paid. STAWU remains indebted to our friends and allies who provided immense material support to our colleague, which included an ITF high level mission dispatched to investigate the violations.”
Find out more about the ITUC’s position on Swaziland and get the latest Labour Start news on Swaziland.