King Mswati III, head of state of eSwatini. File photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP
King Mswati III, head of state of eSwatini. File photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP

Eswatini burns amid violent pro-democracy protests

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Jun 29, 2021

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In the wake of weeks of pro-democracy protests in Eswatini, protests have spiralled out of control and the situation on the ground is extremely volatile with supermarkets and industrial plants having been set alight, and the army deployed to restore order. Sources claim that soldiers on leave have been recalled, and military helicopters have been patrolling to clamp down on protests.

“Last night was scary as the industrial hub was shut down. A government bus was burnt, ATM’s damaged and violence broke out in townships and rural communities which has previously been unheard of,” Mabuza Mancoba, the SG of the Ubuntu Leadership Academy told Independent Media. “Young people are adamant in their fight for democracy, and they feel they have nothing to lose,” Mancoba said.

Unconfirmed reports coming out of Eswatini allege that King Mswati has fled the country in his private jet to an unknown location. Reports allege that his jet was seen flying from Matsapha airport on Monday evening.

The Peoples’ United Democratic Movement (Pudemo) is scheduled to have a press conference at 11am Tuesday morning where they will address the situation on the ground. Pudemo is the largest political opposition party in Eswatini and is a pro-democracy socialist party. Fears abound within the movement that some members of parliament seen as reformists and pro-democracy, as well as the Secretary General and President of Pudemo may be rounded up by the army and arrested.

Thousands of citizens across the country marched to their various constituencies to deliver petitions demanding democratic reforms, and an elected Prime Minister under a Constitutional monarch, as well as freedom of speech. Protests had been peaceful until the acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku banned the protests in a government statement on June 24th. Masuku currently holds executive powers on behalf of the King, and has claimed that the protests have been hijacked by elements seeking to influence regime change.

Since then protests turned violent, and citizens started burning trucks, tires, and blocked roads, with the protests continuing into the night.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network has called on the international community to play a proactive role in minimising casualties, and for the situation in the country to be made a top priority of SADC. “King Mswati and his cohorts should be held accountable for the mess that the country finds itself in,” the SSN said in a press statement on Tuesday.

The kingdom is one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies, ruled by King Mswati III who was crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, and rules by decree. Political parties in the country are banned from participating in elections, and the King appoints the Prime Minister, Ministers, Judges, a majority of Senators and all members of the various Governing Councils.

Mswati has been coming under heavy criticism for the heavy-handed treatment of opponents and for requesting public money to pay for new palaces and luxury cars.

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