Eswatini burns as pro-democracy protests intensify
The violent protests that have racked Eswatini are expected to continue on Tuesday as calls for a new democratic government by local lobby groups gain ground.
On Monday, 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.”