Inside the Industrial Court

There are moments when the energy around change is palpable in Swaziland. Wednesday, at the Mbabane Industrial Court was one of those times. From 2pm on members of the SNAT teachers’ union as well as a myriad other unions and political activists began arriving to pack the court where a panel of judges was listening to arguments from unions and the state as to whether a proposed strike and protest action could go ahead. The teacher-led strike was supposed to have begun Wed am and last until Fri but the government filed a last-minute interdict to stop it.  I counted at least 200 people in court. Sadly it all seemed to hinge on one piece of missing paper – the results of SNAT’s secret ballot that had to be filed with the Labour Office before a certain date for the strike to be legal. The unions’ lawyer said it had been, but the paper could not be found in evidence. On the other hand, the presiding judge pointed out, the state’s argument was full of holes so, in the end, a compromise had to be bashed out. The unions agreed not to strike for now and to go back to a mediation forum with government for another 7 days. Their members, who are itching to go out onto the streets so angry are they about proposed pay cuts etc, filed out meekly, agreeing justice had been done. The industrial court seemed a serious, fair place as opposed to the other courtrooms I have been in lately.

The police top brass put in an appearance – not inside court; but outside on the steps in case anyone thought of taking the toyi-toyi too far I guess. Maybe they were just bored from patrolling the streets to make sure no one thought of marching or striking.

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