Swazi teachers strike for economic justice, 2012

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
There was renewed frustration in March 2013 following the announcement of a 30 percent pay increase for police officers but SNAT did not revive the campaign.
13 June
2012
to
15 August
2012
Location and Goals
Country: 
Swaziland
Location City/State/Province: 
Mbabane
Location Description: 
The strike disrupted schools throughout the country
Goals: 
To secure a 4.5% pay increase for teachers and stop government cuts of public employee salaries
 

In 2012, Swaziland was a small landlocked country in southern Africa ruled by King Mswati III. Sixty three percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line. Government spending on education had continuously decreased since 2008. With the economy virtually stagnated, the International Monetary Fund had urged the government in February 2012 to reduce the size of its civil service. In many schools, class sizes had been gradually increasing up to 100 pupils per class. The government employed short term contracts in the school system to exclude teachers from benefits and pensions. Several laws, such as the Subversive Activities Act (1938) and Public Order Act (1963), severely limited freedom of association and expression.

Teachers received only a 4.5 percent salary increase for the 2009/2010 year when consumer inflation rates rose to seven percent. The 2010/2011 fiscal year experienced inflation rates of six percent, and teachers again asked for a 4.5 percent raise to adjust to the increasing cost of living. The government instead put a wage freeze on teacher salaries until 2014. In 2012, inflation was over nine percent. The government stated that it could not afford to raise teacher salaries despite the 30 percent pay increase awarded to parliament members in 2012 and the King’s annual personal spending allowance of 20,000,000 Euros. Primary and secondary school teachers received salaries of roughly 400 and 700 dollars per month. Two thirds of the country’s 1.3 million people lived on the equivalent of two dollars per day while Parliament members made 2,400 dollars per month, with many added benefits.

The Swaziland National Association of Teachers Union (SNAT), founded in 1928, organized teachers from preschools through secondary schools as well as college lecturers. SNAT, led by President Sibongile Mazibuko and General Secretary Muzi Mhlanga, called for a two day strike on 13-14 June to demand a 4.5 percent pay increase and cessation of government cuts of public employee salaries. Over 6,000 teachers, roughly half of Swaziland’s teachers, participated in this two day action.

Education International (EI) expressed solidarity with Swazi teachers in their struggle for economic justice and improved status as professionals worthy of respect and fair treatment by administrators. Education International is a federation of teacher and education employee unions around the world, representing over thirty million employees in roughly four hundred organizations. EI launched an online campaign in partnership with Labor Start, a website geared to campaigning and distributing news on behalf of the international trade union movement, encouraging people to submit messages to Swaziland’s king and parliament.

The Government Negotiating Team (GNT) called SNAT executives to a meeting following the two day strike. The government insisted it could not afford to increase teacher salaries, and the GNT sought to dissuade teachers from striking by claiming the planned strike action was illegal. Sibongile Mazibuko argued in an interview that if the government could afford to lose a reported 18 million dollars per month to corruption and increase its cabinet salaries by 30 percent, it could afford to pay its teachers.

On 21 June, SNAT began an open ended strike during which over half of its 9,000 members would take part. National Association of Public Servants and Allied Workers Union members soon joined the strike, though 70 percent of NAPSAWU’s members continued working. Nurses of the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SDNU) also participated in the strike. On 28 June, members of the Swaziland Transport and Allied Workers Union joined the strike. Many students in urban areas deserted the teacherless schools and joined their teachers in protest.

The government responded to the strike by cutting striking teachers’ July salaries by one third. The wave of protests across the country prompted government to call up prison guards to help the overwhelmed police force. On 26 June police arrested several students and three teachers for throwing stones at riot police. Police arrested many teachers under ambiguous charges as teachers traveled to encourage others to join the strike and responded to crowds of strikers with threats, beatings, water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas.

When nurses at the capital’s main government hospital attempted to start a march from the building, police in riot gear blocked them. The nurses in response, danced in the parking lot and sang protest songs. In late July, a group of several dozen parents of children attending the abandoned schools attempted to deliver a petition to Parliament, demanding a raise for teachers, but police blocked them. They gathered in a nearby field and sang protest songs.

On 19 July, the country’s industrial court ruled the strike illegal and the government won an interdict against the strike from a government appointed judge. Following the strike ban, SDNU nurses returned to work but engaged in a slow-down strike. The large majority of teachers continued to strike despite the court ruling as the strike came to represent larger demands of a government held accountable by the people.

On 24 July, the government issued a mandate for teachers to return to work. Many teachers returned to the classroom but did not teach. The next day, nearly 3,000 teachers marched in the two towns of Siketi and Umhlanga. The government ordered Swaziland’s Teaching Service Commission (TSC) to fire any teacher participating in or planning to join the strike. Starting on 1 August, the TSC began firing hundreds of teachers, including all SNAT executives, who temporarily suspended the strike to reconvene and discuss tactics for moving forward.

The majority of Swazis supported the teacher strike and thought that teachers should be reinstated and given the pay increase. The king allowed for a three day Sibaya (People’s Parliament) meeting to commence on 7 August. Sibaya is an annual unofficial organization where civilians convened to discuss matters of national importance. Following popular uproar at the meeting over the dismissal of teachers, King Mswati ordered their reinstatement during the last week of August. However, he did not grant the pay raise for teachers.

In an interview, SNAT President Mazibuko stated that at previous people’s parliament meetings, no one broached the topic of a multi-party democracy. But this time, people openly demanded the firing of the entire cabinet for its failure in handling the teacher strike and the establishment of a multi-party democracy. The monarchy had banned political parties in Swaziland for the past forty years. Mazubiko stated that the strike was successful in exposing the corruption of the government to the population and instilling the belief that they could try for a multi-party democracy.

The Royal mandate and mass firing of teachers caused widespread confusion among strikers over whether or not the strike had been called off. Hit hard economically by salary cuts, loss of jobs, and with few opportunities available in the private sector, many teachers began returning to work in mid-August. No official order from SNAT called off the strike, but in the face of repression and economic hardship, the strike died out over the month of August. By September, fired teachers had been reinstated by the government.

On 27 February 2013, Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula announced a 30 percent pay increase for police officers of the ranks of constable and sergeant. This caused renewed frustration among SNAT members and public employees. SNAT leaders feared that this move would pit civil servants against one another. Despite their outrage at the situation, SNAT did not revive the 2012 campaign.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Butty, James. 2012. “Teacher Strike in Swaziland Bolsters Democracy Call.” State News Service. Retrieve Sept 27, 2015. (http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=8058&sr=HEADLINE(TEACHER+STRIKE+IN+SWAZILAND+BOLSTERS+DEMOCRACY+CALL)%2BAND%2BDATE%2BIS%2B2012).

CCAPS Administration. Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. “Social Conflict Location List.” Retrieved Sept 27, 2015. (https://web.archive.org/web/20150927235203/http://ccaps.aiddata.org/socialConflictLocation/list?offset=4100&max=50&sort=description&order=desc).

2012. “No end in sight to Swazi teachers Strike.” SABC News. Retrieved Sept 27, 2015. (https://web.archive.org/web/20150928000512/http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/826736804c19bea3abf4ffa583a5af00/No-end-in-sight-to-Swazi-teachers-strike-20122507).

Phakathi, Mantoe. 2012. “Labor: Swazi Teachers’ Strike For Wage Hike Goes Into Third Month.” Global Information Network. Retrieved Sep. 27, 2015. (http://search.proquest.com/docview/1030285729?OpenUrlRefId=info:xri/sid:primo&accountid=14194)

2012. “Swaziland: A 2012 EI country study report.” Education In Crisis. Retrieved Sept 27, 2015. (https://web.archive.org/web/20150927235023/http://www.educationincrisis.net/articles/item/973-swaziland-a-2012-ei-country-study-report).

2012. “Swaziland: Crackdown on striking teachers.” Education International. Retrieved Sept 27, 2015. (https://web.archive.org/web/20150927234750/http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2250).

2012. “Swaziland: Educators continue to pay strike.” M2 PressWIRE. Retrieved Sept 27, 2015.

(http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=159583)

2013. “Swaziland: Teachers fight for pay rise.” Education International. Retrieved Sept 27, 2015.

(https://web.archive.org/web/20150927234856/http://www.ei-ie.org/en/news/news_details/2510).

2012. “Swaziland: SNAT on strike against wage cuts.” M2 PressWIRE. Retrieved Sept 27, 2015. (http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=159583).

Voice of America. 2012. “Swaziland Teachers Vow to Continue Strike over Wages.” State News Service. Retrieved Sept 27, 2015. (http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=8058&sr=HEADLINE(SWAZILAND+TEACHERS+VOW+TO+CONTINUE+STRIKE+OVER+WAGES)%2BAND%2BDATE%2BIS%2B2012).

Additional sources

Butty, James. 2012. "Swaziland Opposition Criticizes King's 'People's Assembly'"Voice of America. Retrieved Oct. 14, 2015.

<https://web.archive.org/web/20151014150759/http://www.voanews.com/content/swaziland-king-holds-peoples-parliament/1475614.html>.

2012. "SWAZILAND: Teachers' Strike Highlights Crumbling Education System."IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis. Retrieved Oct. 14, 2015.

<https://web.archive.org/web/20151014150956/http://www.irinnews.org/report/95758/swaziland-teachers-strike-highlights-crumbling-education-system>.

2012. “Swaziland government workers demand more pay.” Aljazeera. Retrieved Oct. 14, 2015

<https://web.archive.org/web/20151014151126/http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/07/2012726152512543944.html>.

Polgreen, Lydia. 2012. “Outside a King’s Plush Halls, Streets Rise in Anger.” The New York Times. Retrieved Oct. 14, 2015.

<http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/01/world/africa/strikers-demand-democracy-and-pay-raises-in-swaziland.html?_r=0>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Molly Murphy 27/09/2015, Clare Perez 18/02/2015