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Cops stop another '˜prayer'

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MANZINI – A battalion of police officers yesterday took control of the Caritas Centre and stopped a commemoration prayer called by the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA).

The police, carrying batons, were the first to arrive at the Caritas Centre, the venue of the prayer.

About 150 metres from the venue, police from the Operation and Support Service Unit (OSSU) had been deployed and were monitoring the situation from a distance.

The police are said to have arrived at Caritas as early as 7am yet the prayer service’s commencement time was 10am.

When this newspaper arrived at 9:30 am, there were notably four groups of police officers deployed at different strategic areas – one waiting outside the venue and the other inside. The third group stood next to the door to the Lungcwazi Conference where the trade unionists were expected to hold the prayer while the fourth group, the OSSU, monitored the situation from a distance – 150 metres from the venue.

At least 12 unionists turned up at 10am and argued with the police for an hour.

The first trade unionist to arrive was Quinton Dlamini, President of the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) who, however, did not enter the place but was chauffeured around the city, leaving police with suspicion that the venue had been changed.

Dlamini arrived at 10:02am.

At 10.07am, Barnes Dlamini, President of TUCOSWA and well-known trade unionist Rueben Ndlangamandla arrived and drove past the police deployed at the main entrance.

They alighted from their car and went straight to the Conference Room, only to find police officers in uniform and others in plain-clothes waiting for them.

"Gentlemen, can we help you?" a police officer carrying a baton greeted Barnes and Ndlangamandla.

"We have to come to worship God here," responded Ndlangamandla, holding a Bible.

The police warned them that the prayer session would not go ahead because TUCOSWA was not recognised on the strength of the order issued by the Industrial Court.

They said they were strictly ordered to ensure the prayer did not take place.

The police insisted that negotiations or any form of begging would not help because they were executing an order issued by authorities.

Barnes said they would not leave the place until they communicated with the Almighty through prayer and wondered why the police suppressed divine communication.

He said they would only leave the place after the police had produced a Court Order stopping the service. The TUCOSWA president said police’s interpretation of the Industrial Court Order showed glaring mistakes and total misunderstanding of legal issues.

He said the Court Order meant that TUCOSWA could not perform its duties in the Labour Advisory Board (LAB) since the present law did not provide for formation of federations. That meant, he said, they had come for the prayer but not to negotiate with the government over some conditions of service.

He said associations and federations were established by their own constitutions on the basis of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland, which provided for the protection of the freedom of association.

Barnes said the court never at any stage said TUCOSWA was illegal.

He said the court meant that TUCOSWA, under the current industrial legislation, lacked the bargaining power, which did not mean it should stop operating or performing its other duties, such as civic education, mobilisation of members; giving opinion or praying.

While he was talking, the police paid full attention.

Barnes would sometimes warn them not to interrupt him until he had exhausted his point. "Don’t interrupt me; allow me to finish talking. I didn’t interrupt you when you were talking so why are you interrupting me now?" he warned the police.

After he had finished addressing the police, two senior police officers identified as Mbhamali and Mdluli said Barnes had articulated his point but the prayer service would not take place.

"We have been listening to you giving us your interpretation of the court judgment but we are not changing our minds – this prayer is illegal, and it won’t take place," warned Mbhamali.

At this time Mduduzi Gina, the Assistant General Secretary of TUCOSWA, had arrived.

Gina wanted the police to show the Court Order stopping the meeting and Mbhamali responded: "I am the Order; it’s me who’s issuing the Order that the prayer service will not take place."

He continued to say that it was not in the police’s plan to use force to disperse the trade unionists. He said his wish was that the prayer service would be abandoned peacefully.

Meanwhile, Gina said he was surprised that a certain political party was launched in full view of the police and nothing was done to the leaders yet a registered organisation like TUCOSWA was being denied its right to freedom of assembly and association.

He said police joined the party members and shared a meal with the political party launchers.

All their arguments did not work as police put their foot down and denied them entry into the conference room.

They then held a private meeting to strategise, 10 metres away from the police officers. They said they would brief the police on the outcome of their private meeting.

Without giving police notice, the eight trade unionists walked out of the place and continued with their meeting outside the main gate.

The police waited for two minutes inside and then followed them.

The trade unionists took their cellphones and took pictures of the police officers. The gate was closed then; with either group on the other side of the fence. "We can see what you are planning to do; it’s now over; you must leave now," the police officers warned.

At this time, they telephoned the Operational Support Services Unit team to arrive. The OSSU arrived a few minutes after the trade unionists had left.

Before leaving, they resolved to hold the prayer service in South Africa at a date yet to be announced.

 

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