Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) has drawn the line in the sand and told the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) leaders to stop patronising them and seeking to prescribe to the federation how to conduct their business.

What irked the federation was the statement issued by PUDEMO President Mlungisi Makhanya after the mayhem at the Prince of Wales May Day celebrations where Prime Minister Russell Dlamini was forced to cut short his speech following chaos instigated by sections of workers and some political party members.

Makhanya, the exiled PUDEMO President, suggested in his statement posted on Facebook that TUCOSWA leaders were leading lives that are better than their members hence can no longer relate to the plight of ordinary workers.

It was the wording of the statement, coming at a time when TUCOSWA was still trying to find a way to deal with the fallout from the Prince of Wales debacle, that irked TUCOSWA leaders.

Go read the statement yourself chief,” fumed one TUCOSWA leader who was contacted by this publication. “What is Makhanya insinuating that our lives are cushioned? Cushioned by what? You can tell what he is insinuating yet sometimes it would be best to put a mirror on yourself before making a surreptitious dig at some of us. It's one thing to disrupt our event but it's another to rub it in our face and show no remorse whatsoever,” continued another trade union leader who asked to remain anonymous because he was not mandated to speak on behalf of the federation.

PUDEMO President Mlungisi Makhanya

In his statement Makhanya said the revolution could not be waged “through exchanges of white roses and ettiquettes (sic)”. Continued Makhanya: “The painful admission that TUCOSWA leadership must make in my view is that the majority of the leadership are cushioned from the daily hardships confronting the working class. Russel Dlamini is the Minister of Police and he is well aware of crimes that police have been accused of inflicting on (sic) innocent emaSwati. While TUCOSWA is enjoined by applicable ILO agreements on the fuctioning (sic) of TRIPARTITE in country to invite employers and government to such activities, that should never be used to give legitimacy to murderous regimes.”

Makhanya continued to charge that the leadership collective of TUCOSWA must not be allowed to use May Day to exorcise what he called a murderous regime. “The right to independently, freely and without any coercion celebrate May Day is a sovereign right of the workers of our country. However, in doing so, it must never be lost to the leadership of TUCOSWA that the right to have May Day declared a paid public holiday was never waged and won by employed workers only. It was a collective struggle that was waged and won by the entire working class,” continued Makhanya.

The first to challenge Makhanya, at least publicly, was long time trade unionist and PUDEMO leader from Shiselweni region, Fundizwi Sikhondze. Sikhondze responded to the Facebook post by telling Makhanya that he was being opportunistic in his reprimand of TUCOSWA.

Responded Sikhondze: “I don't think that your premise of reducing TUCOSWA leaders and telling them to listen to anyone who may be an unemployed worker at that time is helpful to this debate and is not based on reality. I think you are doing this opportunistically and dishonestly because I happen to know very well that the real situation you know very well. But we also are aware of the contempt some amongst your leadership have for TUCOSWA leaders that you are proudly declaring publicly today.

Most PUDEMO leaders have backed Makhanya though. Only a few, led by PUDEMO National Executive Committee (NEC) member Sikhumbuzo Phakathi, have condemned the mayhem as bad for the image of the party.

In the organisation's NEC WhatsApp group, now seen by The Bridge, it has mainly been Phakathi who has held the line and went against Makhanya and his supporters.

However, during a TUCOSWA post mortem evaluation of the May Day event at SNAT offices held this week, the leaders were unanimous that they would not allow political parties to continuously disrupt their events especially after the May 2021 violence at St Pauls sports ground.

"This was unnecessary you don't behave like this when invited. Worse when you go on to beat the drums so that your members can attack us," said a unionist who attended the SNAT meeting.

TUCOSWA leaders Bheki Dlamini and Mduduzi Gina. (Pic courtesy of SNAT)

TUCOSWA Secretary General Mduduzi Gina told The Bridge that they had noted that some political party members wanted to dictate to the federation what must be done, when and how, with no reprimand from their leaders. He did not mention any party by name.

During the postmortem of the event on the 2nd May, the General Council noted that some political party members wanted to dictate what must be done, when, how etc in an event organized by the Federation. This kind of behavior continued without reprimand from their leaders. Their actions undermined the autonomy of the Federation and its structures. It is as if decisions and strategic decisions of the Federation must be vetted elsewhere other than within the structures of the Federation,” Gina said.

He added that over the years the federation had not amplified their position enough that they are not affiliated nor in alliance with any political party and that they do not subscribe to any ideology of any organization except the working class ideology.

As for the Federation, it is becoming clear every day that there are some elements within some organizations that have self-appointed themselves as prefects of the conduct of the Federation and its affiliates. No matter how much such tendencies may have been entrenched within the unions, it must be rooted out in the interest of the workers. In any event, this also was the resolution of the General Council,” continued Gina.

Unions avoiding electing PUDEMO members.

The Bridge investigations have revealed that as the fallout between the trade unions and some political parties, PUDEMO in particular, unions are increasingly avoiding voting for PUDEMO affiliated members. This was confirmed by a source within the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) and TUCOSWA. In fact, one PUDEMO member from Lubombo told The Bridge that the unions were increasingly getting hostile to PUDEMO in particular.

I would be saying in the unions people hate political parties but it seems that is not the case because the Communist Party is growing in influence within the unions. In the last contest for SNAT President, PUDEMO members supported former SNAT Secretary General Muzi Mhlanga but he was given a white wash by Mbongwa who ultimately became President. You look at the Secretary of SNAT he is with the Communist Party. This is true of the nurses union as well where the leadership is mostly aligned with the communist party. If you want to win a position in SNAT just don't say you are PUDEMO or do not be seen to be supported by them. I speak from experience,” said the member who asked not to be mentioned.

The recently concluded SNUS congress leadership results.

Other unionists contacted by The Bridge said their members did not elect people based on party affiliation but their standing in the organization was enough. They said it was coincidental that leaders belonged to parties and said if the party was influential in that particular union, then it was fine by them.

SNAT Secretary General Lot Vilakati said their members were drawn from various political persuasions, with some in political parties and others supporting the Tinkhundla government. He cautioned, however, that as much as they couldn't deny people their right to belong to any political group, but union leaders must act to advance union interests, not party interests.

Remember unions are a product of the country´s statute, so we cannot afford to have the union de-registered to please one political group,” Vilakati said. The public sector unions are increasingly dumping members affiliated with PUDEMO.

He said given the conduct of some political parties during their events, unions end up wondering why they must carry the financial cost of the disruption caused by some political groups.

The conduct of some political parties, including PUDEMO, often left a bitter taste in union members.

The one party that has grown within the unions is the Communist Party. The Secretariat of the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union is led by Communist Party members/sympathisers while the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) has voted out PUDEMO members (at least those open about it) with the new executive either silent members or just not party affiliated.

Quite coincidentally, the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) held their elections this week where the Communist Party affiliated members squired up with those from PUDEMO and the former came tops.

SNUS President Gabisile Ndukuya defeated his close competitor Ndlovu Nkosinathi 39—35. In the Secretary General position  SWAYOCO NEC member Nkambule Nontsetselelo was handed a white wash when she got 26 votes against Sambulo Shongwe´s 48. Shongwe is a member of the CPS.

The turn of events continues a trail where CPS aligned members dominate the union and close space for those aligned with PUDEMO. The CPS is a break away party from PUDEMO and was formed in 2011 while SNUS was revived by SWAYOCO members in 2006. In the last few years, SNUS has been led by CPS aligned members.

We were mandated to invite the PM and have apologised to Prime Minister

Gina said over many years the federation has always extended an invitation to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to attend Workers Day.

He said the government used to deploy senior Government officials except this year when the PM himself was invited. “The Federation does not implement any other organizations' programs save for its own which are taken democratically within the constitutional decision making structures of the Federation. An attack to such decisions is like throwing a spear to those structures and a clear show of disregard and disrespect to the strategic intelligence of these structures of the Federation. Our comment in this regard is not directed at any particular organization but a general rule....The allegations that workers disapproved of the decisions of the General Council shall be checked in the factory to factory across the length and breadth of the country where workers would be engaged to express themselves on these unfortunate events in preparation for future events,” continued Gina.