Eswatini is in the throes of violent youth protests. The protests were triggered by the death of Thabani Nkomonye, a 25 year old law student at the University of Eswatini, at the hands of police in May. The first “Justice for Thabani” march took place on 17 May. The demise of Thabani Nkomonye seemingly was a tipping point for students, human rights and political activists to voice out issues they believe touch on social injustice. The protests were then joined by three members of Eswatini’s parliament who magnified the calls made by the #Justice for Thabani movement.

They then shifted focus to calling for meaningful democratic reforms in the country and a Prime Minister that was elected by the people and not appointed by the King. The three legislators said that what they were seeking for, was a government for the people which would hold those assigned to office accountable to the people. They held that they were against the notion that some people were secondary citizens and had to get crumbs of whatever the economy produced. They said a high number of the citizenry were failing to afford basic commodities.

This past weekend, one of the three legislators was arrested by the police and briefly detained during a protest action staged in his own constituency. Since then the country has been in a cycle of chaotic protests now staged mainly at night and targeting government property. It is said that the police, in collaboration with the military, have started to kidnap leaders of the protests actions using rented cars with foreign registration numbers. There are unconfirmed reports of some protesters having been shot dead by the army.

On Monday 28 June, some government buildings and several trucks, including those from SA that were delivering goods to various towns, were set alight as the ongoing pro-democracy protests escalated after acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku issued a decree banning the delivery or handover of petitions to government officials and MPs. On Monday night locals reported a heavy a police presence in the streets after the violent protests and arrests. In a statement, the Communist Party of Swaziland criticised King Mswati’s “autocratic police” after they allegedly assaulted the party’s deputy general secretary Mxolisi Ngcamphalala on Saturday while on his way to attend a protest at Siphofaneni constituency in the Lubombo region. The party accused the local police of singling Ngcamphalala out from other taxi passengers, accusing him of taking photographs. “In their attempt to block the masses from attending the protest action, Mswati’s police had staged a roadblock. Immediately after the police recognised the (party’s) leader, two plain-clothed police pounced on the taxi and ordered him to get off,” the party said. “During the commotion, I was kicked all over the body, held by my genitals and bundled into a police van to Siphofaneni police station”, said Ngcamphalala. At the police station he was allegedly interrogated about why he was taking pictures. “The interrogation and assault took about two hours, and then I was moved to Duze, a rural community near Siphofaneni town, where the police commanded me to remain there”, said Ngcamphalala. He later travelled to the nearest clinic, where he received medical attention.

A local activist who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisal described the situation in Eswatini as dire. “The situation is not good at all. What started as a peaceful petition has now turned into a violent protest and is intensifying all because of an absolute monarch who is controlling everything from parliament to the judiciary. “We live in a nation where almost 70% of the population live below the poverty line.” The unemployed university dropout who lives in Lavumisa village said many in the rural town had no running water despite huge funding from international donors streaming into the country to provide infrastructure for running water. “Two years ago we were promised to have water installed and many of us installed taps in our homes using our money, hoping to get water connection, but up to now we still have nothing coming out of the taps. Monies that the government gets disappear and we can’t hold anyone accountable for anything because this is not a government for the people, but the king’s government. The king is not even accountable to anybody, and that is why today we want to elect our own government.” Another local activist said despite the threats to now deploy the army in the streets to control protesters, the demonstrators will not back down. “We are not backing down. We will resist the king’s government until we get what we want. We cannot continue with a situation where one family (the royal family) gets all the privileges while the masses can hardly make ends meet due to rising unemployment and poor salaries.” The Communist Party of Swaziland said it would intensify its fight for democracy, and called for the unbanning of all political parties. “This barbaric act by Mswati’s police is a clear indication that the regime is getting more desperate to cling to power. Mswati, who rules Swaziland as Africa’s last absolute monarch, will go to extreme lengths to preserve the regime which has ruled by iron fist since April 1973. The police attacked protesters in a bid to crush the protests. (We) call on all workers, faith-based organisations and progressive movements to intensify the fight for democracy now.”

On 29 June 2021 several South African news websites reported that King Mswati had fled the country and was in South Africa. Eswatini government sources denied the reports.

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