Impacts of timber plantations on rural people of Swaziland


Ladies and Gentlemen:

I GREET YOU ALL IN THESE DAY OF THE 13 November 03. My work has been made easy by the organizers of this event, I have been asked to talk about something that I'm deeply concerned about, something that, I have first hand information of, something that me and my people experience every day, if I was asked to deliver a serious academic paper maybe I would have had difficulty, but giving an account of how the people mainly of Bhunya and peak speak and the surrounding area have been suffering for the past 55 years because of timber plantation should not be very difficult. Because of the time I have been given I shall not be able to comprehensively discuss all the issues.

Origins of timber in Swaziland

Timber plantations was introduced In Swaziland more than 55 years ago by south African based conglomerate Sappi, which is well known to most or all of you in these house, another, power house in timber plantation which has been housed in Swaziland for many years is Mondi. SAPPI Usuthu pulp as it is popularly known operates in the south part of Swaziland producing approximately 180 000 to 200 000 tons of pulp. It is said that they are the second largest producer of unbleached Kraft pulp, used too make cement bags, crepe paper and car filter systems, the questions that arises from such facts is that how would a subsidiary be able to achieve such results in a small country like Swaziland. About 90% of Swaziland pulp is sold to southeast Asia, coincidentally timber plantations has been the second industrial activity in the kingdom after sugar and already these two crops are a disaster for a country like Swaziland, where they are still feudal social relations, Because they turn to destroy the community by amassing vast land and destroying the community life that has been part of our culture for years. The fact that they also rely on international markets to survive, has negative impacts for economic stability

Timber plantations

Timber plantations are well known for their socio-environmental problems, Swaziland has not been exempted from those problems. From a political perspective it still pains some of us that South African exploitative capitalist were allowed and are still allowed to export their history of labor exploitation, super profits, unsustainability in to powerless neighboring countries, it is said that Swaziland has got one of the largest man made forest, although not being a forest because timber plantains are not renewable, thanks, to Sappi and Mondi that today about a fifth of land, that was productive, used to grow food and for cattle grazing, grew grass to build houses has been turned into a money making forest. assisted by cheap labor the company has managed to be one of the productive subsidiary of Sappi grows timber at the expense of the grass culture, cattle, and sustainable farming of the Swazi people.


Timber forests have been created by means of evictions in Swaziland. It is the land that used to be home to hundreds of people. These people were given as little as R1000 for vast land as part of their compensation then pushed away in the mountains. Where they were given places that are not conducive for human survival, if you drive through Bhunya you are shocked o see where the people are staying, they are staying in Rock Mountains. The companies have done nothing to try and meet the socio-economic demands of the people, their stock which was a source of income and livelihood disappeared because of disappearing grasslands of and drinking water, the companies have failed to even make a bore whole for the community of Tiyeni. This is proof that timber plantation is not meant to meet the needs of the people and improve the standard of living for communities.

Swaziland is among the worse because there is not a single meaningful legislation that is there which could be used to challenge the failure of the corporations on issues of the environment and effects on people lives. The principle of investing back into the community is non-existent to the capitalist exploiting Swazi labour. We have had to rely on mass mobilization only to fight back which is often crushed by the mighty, collaborating regime of Mswati the dictatorial king. Recently Sappi Usuthu announced that they will be investing 238 million Rand in expansion programs, and we know that it means more evictions, more soil erosion, more pollution of the air and the rivers next to the mills and more suffering to the rural people Mswati the judiciary, executive, and legislator has already endorsed these plans ignorantly so or lack of interest to the welfare of the people. Ours is to look closely and strategies ways of fighting back. Evictions means loss of land, land means poverty, Zimbabwe will a perfect example.


Sappi Usuthu used to employ about 8 to 10 thousand people but it has already retrenched half of those people today it command 3000 workers of which only 700 hundred are full employees of the company, half of the company services have been privatized, in a much published scandal in Usuthu they paid two of their senior executive bonuses equal to the two hundred workers that they were retrenching at the same time and the workers money was to be taxed until they fought and won that case, Sappi is known to be one of the least paying companies in Swaziland at shop flow level and with appalling working conditions, hence it had the strongest union until it was undermined by the process of privatization and the oppressive government. The issue here is that timber plantation companies in Swaziland no longer provide employment security for the people that it displaced from their land causing poverty, when they do, it I casual jobs, that are very exploitative in their nature. about 60% of the people in Bhunya are not employed at the moment.


Both the peaks peak and Bhunya processing plants account for quite a lot of the water and air pollution in Swaziland, their organizations are simply not accountable to any one in terms of their environmental responsibility. For the past two years they have not given out a report on their environmental assessment. The people of living nearby have continuously raise problems from drinking the water from the next by river which Sappi use for dumping its refuse. The government of Swaziland has been quite because it is a stooge of South African capital as long as they give little tax which they use for royal celebrations its fine, the people can die from timber plantations effects. More research still need to be done in this area to get the real impact of the pollution by timber plantation in Swaziland


In as much as we can not directly say that these is how much it cost the people of Swaziland, to grow timber in their country, Visavi, its good we can link timber plantation to the poverty that is experienced on the ground, evicting people from their land is fatal, paying them peanuts is exploitation, not being environmentally responsibly is wrong, and not taking any responsibility for damages done on the environment is not being concerned at all.

Civil society response

The people that are mostly effected have responded, when the companies were not paying them enough, and retrenching them they formed the timber plantation concerned group, its role was to mobilize people to engage the companies and government on all the issues raised above, because most of the time they are not listened to they turn to be more violent, in many cases they burn down the trees, they have also mobilized for more support from other organization that is why we as SCAPEI, are playing the role of linking them with other organization, in trying to build their capacity to systematically challenge these issues and give them hope for a better future and also trying to capacitate them by mobilizing funds and doing research to strengthen our case.

Nhlanhla Msweli

Swaziland campaign against poverty and economic inequality



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The "Timber Plantations: Impacts, Future Visions and Global Trends' event was hosted by GEASPHERE in association with the TimberWatch Coalition

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