The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the UK has called on the British High Commissioner to South Africa and Swaziland to step in after democracy activist Sipho Jele was found dead in jail after he was arrested for wearing a PUDEMO T-shirt.
The TUC considers the death suspicious – ‘redolent of the many apartheid-era police murders in South African jails explained away as suicides’.
The TUC has also protested to the Swaziland High Commissioner in London.
The TUC is asking that letters of protests and condolences be sent to HE Mrs Mary M Kanya, High Commissioner, Kingdom of Swaziland High Commission, 20 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6LB or faxed to +44 (0)20 7630 6564.
In a letter to the British High Commissioner in Pretoria, Dr Nicola Brewer, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber wrote, ‘I was appalled to learn about the death in police custody of Sipho Jele, who as well as being an opposition PUDEMO activist in Swaziland, was a member of the Swaziland Agricultural and Plantations Workers Union (SAPWU), part of the TUC’s sister national centre the SFTU.
‘We understand that Sipho’s family were told on 4 May that he was found hanged in his cell after having been arrested at the SFTU’s May Day celebrations on 1 May for wearing a PUDEMO t-shirt and charged under the discredited Suppression of Terrorism Act. The nature of his death - so redolent of the many apartheid-era police murders in South African jails explained away as suicides - and the fact that the family were told to bury him quickly and without informing his trade union or political colleagues are deeply suspicious.
‘I would be grateful if you would convey to the Government of Swaziland the deep concerns that the British trade union movement has about Sipho Jele’s death, and if appropriate, add the concerns of the British Government. Sipho’s family has now been provided with a lawyer, and I would also ask that you urge the Government of Swaziland to allow an independent investigation into the circumstances of Sipho Jele's death, including an autopsy by an independent pathologist, and ensure that, if it is found that his death was suspicious, those responsible are identified and brought to trial.
‘I have been informed that the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers are planning a protest march next week to the Prime Minister's office to protest against the brutal death of Sipho Jele while in police custody and the general human rights abuse by the state's security agents, and, lastly, I would ask that you urge the Government of Swaziland to allow that march to take place unmolested - something that would be rare in that unfortunate country.’