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Tansy Hoskins reports on economic crisis and resistance in Swaziland

Worsening economic crisis in Swaziland has led to months of protest and strikes. The country has been extremely hard hit by a financial crisis after revenue from the country’s main source of income, a regional customs union, dropped by 60 per cent.

For the past five weeks, 14,000 teachers have been on strike, calling for a pay rise of just 4.5% - far below inflation which currently stands at 9%. Swaziland’s autocratic ruler King Mswati has refused to negotiate with the teachers who have not had a pay rise in 3 years. He has now taken the step of firing several hundred teachers including the entire executive of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT).

The last thing that a country in economic and political crisis needs is to lose its teachers. The sackings have prompted further strikes from civil servants, though a strike by nurses has been declared illegal. One teacher commented on Facebook: 'Our President is now fired! Let us fight.'

The crisis has renewed popular calls for democracy in Swaziland. King Mswati – Africa’s last constitutional monarch – lives a life of luxury in a country where most people survive on less than $1 per day. He earns income from all areas of Swaziland’s economy, including telecommunications, banking and mining. His fourteen wives each have their own palace and the royal family’s extravagant trips to Las Vegas have become notorious. By contrast almost three in every ten adults in Swaziland is infected with HIV and life expectancy is as low as 48 years.

The demonstrations look set to continue and to grow, in the face of an absolute monarch who refuses to negotiate with protesters – is an African Spring just around the corner?

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