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PRINCE SIMELANE LIFTS BAN ON MARCHES, BUT ...

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MATSAPHA - The Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Prince Simelane, has lifted the ban on gatherings, in particular marches, in urban areas, but with stringent conditions.

This comes a year and nine months after the minister banned local governments in the country from issuing permits for gatherings in the streets of the urban areas. On October 21, 2021, the minister held a press conference and announced that the local authorities in the country should stop issuing permits for marches or demonstrations. During the press conference, he stated that the issuing of the permits  was being suspended in order for the economy to recover as it could not do so if marches were the order of the day.

Protest

He added that there was a saying that goes; ‘once bitten, twice shy’, adding that in the past months (June and July, 2021, to be specific), where protest marches were not uncommon, there was looting and burning of businesses, with the cost of damages estimated at E800 million. Furthermore, the minister said around 5 000 people were left without employment and that during protests, innocent people, including the police, were caught in the crossfire as their vehicles were stoned, burnt and blocked on the roads. After this pronouncement, the labour force and the mass democratic movement had challenges in hosting gatherings, especially in the cities and towns, as the local governments would not grant them permits, citing the minister’s directive.

Gatherings

After that, members of the State security organs would be deployed in the towns or cities, where the gatherings were supposed to be held, and would stop the demonstrations due to lack of permits. On October 28, 2021, the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), called off its nationwide protest action and cited intimidation by the heavy presence of members of the State security personnel in the cities and towns. This was despite the fact that it had adhered to the provisions of the Public Order Act of 2017, which governs gatherings. The minister made changes to the ban yesterday during the official closing of a three-day induction workshop for the councillors-elect from the town Boards, town councils and municipalities in the country, which was held at Esibayeni Lodge.

He said inasmuch as the people had the right to demonstrate for various reasons, including labour-related issues, his plea to the councils was that it should engage the conveners of the planned demonstration to send at least between five and 10 representatives to deliver their petition to the relevant stakeholder. The minister said he was making this plea because when many people participated in the demonstration, it usually ended in chaotic scenes. He said most of the time, properties, including businesses, would be damaged. In that regard, he told the councils to engage the nation, in particular the conveners of gatherings, about the matter. He said in other countries, in particular First World States, there were places which were designated for demonstrations and the intended recipient of a petition would send a representative to receive the letter of grievances. On the other hand, Bongani Mkhatshwa, the Councillor-elect for Matsapha Town Council, who spoke on behalf of the councillors-elect, said they noted the call that was made by the minister and said as local governments, they were not supposed to be seen going against it.

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