Was Sipho Jele murdered in a Swazi police cell?

In the bad old days of apartheid South Africa, protestors would often "commit suicide" or suffer "accidental death" in police custody. Steve Biko was probably the most famous victim. 

Now it seems those days are back, just across the border in Swaziland. In that benighted country, Africa's longest lasting state of emergency sees a feudal monarchy preside over terrible poverty, gross inequality, and what USAID call "the world's most severe HIV/AIDS epidemic". 

On May Day,  Sipho Jele – who as well as being an opposition PUDEMO activist, was a member of the Swaziland Agricultural and Plantations Workers Union (SAPWU), part of the TUC’s sister national centre the SFTU - was arrested for wearing a political t-shirt, and charged under the discredited Suppression of Terrorism Act.

Three days later, Sipho’s family were told that he was 'found' hanged in his cell. The nature of his death and the fact that the family were told to bury him quickly and without informing his trade union or political colleagues are deeply suspicious.  

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has protested to the Swazi High Commissioner in London, and the British High Commissioner in Pretoria (who covers Swaziland). Sipho’s family has now been provided with a lawyer, and we join them in calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances of Sipho Jele’s death, including an autopsy by an independent pathologist. If it is found that his death was suspicious, those responsible must be identified and brought to trial.

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. The Government of Swaziland must allow that march to take place unmolested – something that would be rare in that unfortunate country.

Owen Tudor

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