20 September 2008
Jan, union leaders locked in cops’ vans for six hours
By SIHLE MAVUSO
MBABANE - About 10 progressive groups members and labour movement leaders were taken on a six-hour hell ride by members of the Royal Swaziland Police force hours before the foiled boarder blockade on Thursday.
Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) Secretary General, Jan Sithole, Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) Secretary General Dominique Nxumalo and member, Sibongile Mabuza, PUDEMO’s Jerome Shongwe and others were bundled into two police and correctional services vans upon arrival at Ngwenya border where they were to meet with their members.
They were taken on a cross-country ride with their knees resting on their chests given the sitting arrangement at the back of the vans. It was unbearable, they claim.
They were bundled into the vans shortly after their arrival at Ngwenya Boarder Post where they were to also meet with their South African counterparts from COSATU in staging the blockade.
Of interest was that police opted to drive with them through Pigg’s Peak via the Madlangempisi road to Manzini from Ngwenya. Police Public Relations Officer Superintendent Vusi Masuku said this was done for security reasons. This newspaper wanted to know the rationale behind taking a longer route to Manzini.
Narrating the ordeal, Sithole said it was a torturing experience. Sithole said they were not even allowed to respond to the call of nature until they were at Pigg’s Peak Correctional Services where they were ushered into a prison toilet like criminals.
"They loaded us into a van at Ngwenya where we were kept for over an hour inside. We asked to be taken to the toilet but they refused. Instead they drove with us to Motshane where they stopped for over 30 minutes and not attending to our requests," he said.
He added that from there they were taken to Pigg’s Peak Correctional Services where after sometime they were allowed to go to the toilet. "From there we were taken into the cars again and they drove us through a dirty road in the plantations. It was hot in the back and no one cared about how we felt," said Sithole in a low tone.
He said moments later when he peeped through he noticed that they were at Mandlangemphisi where they took the main road to Manzini. "We were taken to the Manzini Regional head quarters where we were asked a few questions and released. To us this was a clear indication that government has total disregard of human life. How would you expose us to such unbearable conditions when you claim to be a caring government," he said.
United Democratic Front (UDF) chief, Barnes Dlamini said they were not taking the actions of the police lightly. He said they will take the matter up with government and they would not rest until justice is done.
Other political formations members were dumped in some forests at Nkhaba after they were apprehended by the police on their way to Ngwenya Boarder Gate. They were rescued by a vehicle from SUFIAWU. On the other side of the fence, about 100 or so COSATU members converged but their presence did not affect the flow of traffic. Things were generally normal.
Police PRO Masuku said Sithole and the others were not arrested per se but were taken for questioning in Manzini following their threats to close or block the country’s boarders.
He said they would not have allowed Sithole and the other protestors to close the internationally gazetted entry and exit point because that would be violating international laws.
Speaking on the route the police used to Manzini, Masuku said: "Police had to use an alternative route to Manzini because they were trying to avoid a confrontation with the other protestors who were coming to the boarder".
He explained that the protestors were rounded up before they could fulfil their mission and they were taken to Manzini to answer on why they had to go against warnings from the head of government about the boarder blockade.
Masuku said allegations that they confiscated the union leaders’ cellphones were not related to the truth. "It’s all lies," he said emphatically.