Skip to main content
Updated Jul 16, 2021
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. “Bullets were flying everywhere,” remembers Sifiso. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. “Bullets were flying everywhere,” remembers Sifiso. © Alessandro Parodi.

The Southern African country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is in military lockdown as a result of violence and brutal retaliation, which escalated in the last two weeks in the Manzini district. The civil unrest opposes pro-democracy protesters and King Mswati III’s army, which defends the royal family through the barrel of the gun.

The marches started at the University of Eswatini (UNISWA) in Manzini, the country’s second biggest city, to express the dissatisfaction of the young generations with the authority and the excesses of the last absolute monarch in Africa. For weeks, the government ignored the rallies organized in the country’s four districts by students and political parties. The uprising took an unexpected turn as the disheartened rioters started destroying and looting businesses owned by the King and by foreigner entrepreneurs.

 

“The protest was peaceful until the police arrived,” commented Sifiso, who witnessed an intense stand-off on June 29. “They threw tear gas bombs and were shooting to kill.”

 

“The protest was peaceful until the police arrived,” commented Sifiso, who witnessed an intense stand-off on June 29. “They threw tear gas bombs and were shooting to kill.”

The rioters replied with petrol bombs and set the Kwaluseni police station alight. Hell broke loose.

“Suddenly we were in the crossfire,” added Sifiso, showing a bullet shell he found on the street. “They beat up people and shot them down. Somebody tried to run and cut his leg with barbed wire. There was blood everywhere, and the whole block was burning down.”

The Kwaluseni constituency was one of several areas targeted during the protests. The district of Manzini and the city of Matsapha were the hardest hit, with entire neighborhoods destroyed by fire, looting, and the brute force used by law enforcement officials.

“It was Thursday, at 4 o’clock in the morning around the brewery area,” remembered Thando (not his real name), a protester from Matsapha. “The police and the army came to stop our riot. My brother Sicelo was in the front. They shot, they shot -- I think they shot him three times, while he was running away.”

“We took his body to the hospital and he died there,” continued Thando. “In the night, the soldiers came to steal the body from the morgue to burn it. Fortunately a friend tipped me off. I went to the hospital and got the body back with the help of the secretary of PUDEMO [Peoples' United Democratic Movement] to go ahead with the autopsy.”

Thando is no longer afraid for his life. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die. I’m already dead. It’s just a matter of how it happens,” he said.

Silencing the opposition seems to be the modus operandi of the regime, as several “accidents” reportedly resulted in the death or disappearance of political analysts, journalists and dissidents. The Swazi government also refused to address the public, denying interviews and media accreditation in the country. However, rumors talk of an imminent Sibaya, a general assembly called by the monarch to address his subjects on Friday 16.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also become an excuse to restrict the citizen’s freedom with the enforcement of a 6pm curfew and the temporary jamming of internet connections. Most of the killings and torture reportedly happened at night.

One of the alleged accidents caused the death of Thabani Nkomonye, a law student at the University of Eswatini who was killed and mauled by the police on May 8. In the academic circles, his memory still provokes pain and resentment. His murder ignited a revolutionary sentiment among his peers, who flooded the Tinkhundla Centres with thousands of petitions. The Tinkhundla Centres are 55 administrative establishments where the population can express their democratic rights and petition the undertakings of the royal family and its government.

The students demanded inclusive governance and a transition to a parliamentary monarchy with the support of three vocal MPs, who questioned the authority of a puppet Parliament. The government’s response was marked by dismissal and repression. The Tinkhundla Centres were shut down and military cordons were established around them.

“What we were doing was guided by the Constitution of Swaziland,” commented student leader Bongumenzi Dlamini. “They were wrong to ban the submission of petitions, which were given to the rightful Member of Parliament.”

“The protests are not going to stop, simply because the government doesn’t want to listen to us. Our parents are used to solving issues in a more peaceful way, our culture is based on that. We have seen that this attitude doesn’t work. We are taken for granted because we employ respect and it backfires on us. When we engage ourselves in strikes, instead, we are taken as hooligans because they use the Swazi culture as a shield,” concluded Dlamini.

 

“I don’t know what to think, I lost everything,” asserted Rambo Maziya, the owner of two pharmacies in Matsapha and Manzini. “But I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines. My people are dying.”

 

Despite the peaceful intentions, the protests turned into bloodshed and fratricide. As violence erupted, looting and shoplifting were at large.

“I don’t know what to think, I lost everything,” asserted Rambo Maziya, the owner of two pharmacies in Matsapha and Manzini. “But I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines. My people are dying.”

“I didn’t expect things to be that bad,” added Ali Tasty, who owns several shops in Kwaluseni. “I only went back after two days and found all my businesses were burned down. Now what can I do?”

Supermarkets and car dealers were also destroyed, for an estimated damage of 3 billion Emalangeni ($208 million). 5,000 jobs went up in smoke.

“In any situation like this there are casualties. I am one of them,” commented a shop employee, who requested to remain anonymous. “They are protecting the regime at our expense.”

The Swazi population now faces a serious shortage of basic goods such as food and medicines. The supply of petrol, which is a monopoly of Southern Star Logistics, has become erratic and resulted in endless lines at filling stations. The Swazi business community is also disillusioned with the monarch’s attitude toward the free market, which he is accused to dominate with unfair competition and insatiable greed.

As the country attempts a painful return to normality, dissident MPs Bacede Mabuza, Magawugawu Simelane and Mthandeni Dube are in hiding, with police on their trail. A mandate of arrest justifies the manhunt, although their defense has not had any clarity about the charges against them.

“The Inkundla system opposes the existence of democratic voices in Swaziland,” stated their defense lawyer Adv. Thulani Maseko, director of the Institute for Democracy and Leadership in Mbabane.

“Whilst we have the elections of MPs in the 59 constituencies, the executive remains a prerogative of the King, in particular the choice of a Prime Minister. The second fundamental point is that political parties are not allowed to contest political power as a block.” Political parties were banned in 1973 by King Sobhuza II.

“These MPs who today are facing arrest have come out asking for elections to be held. That is the reason why the system is upset,” concluded Maseko.

His colleague Emmanuel Mabuza is concerned about his safety and fears for retaliation: “If the protests fail, we are all dead. They will find us and make us disappear,” he affirmed.

On July 4, a fact-finding mission of observers from SADC countries (Troika) met government officials in Mbabane. The international inquiry was dismissed as the delegation could not engage with civil society and other stakeholders.

The mission returned on July 12, despite the eruption of unrelated violence in neighbouring South Africa.

While awaiting the results of the inquiry, the Swazi population is bracing for new protests scheduled for July 16, in occasion of the King’s Sibaya. The alert levels are on the rise, amid increasing fears of further violence, destruction and death.

 

Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Trying hard to return to normality. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Trying hard to return to normality. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. “I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines,” said Rambo Maziya . © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. “I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines,” said Rambo Maziya . © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. The uprising exacerbated the difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. The uprising exacerbated the difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic. © Alessandro Parodi.
Manzini, Eswatini. Several ATMs were assaulted during the riots. © Alessandro Parodi.
Manzini, Eswatini. Several ATMs were assaulted during the riots. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Arson at HB Motors caused damage for 13 million Emalangeni ($883,000). © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Arson at HB Motors caused damage for 13 million Emalangeni ($883,000). © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Angry students did not spare the book shop at the University of Eswatini. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Angry students did not spare the book shop at the University of Eswatini. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Thabo (not his real name) lost his brother in the protests. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die.” © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Thabo (not his real name) lost his brother in the protests. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die.” © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. A young supporter of the King reads the daily news © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. A young supporter of the King reads the daily news © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. King Mswati III surrounded by his escort © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. King Mswati III surrounded by his escort © Alessandro Parodi.

 

Topics
Daily Picks
Jul 26, 2021