ZWELI MARTIN DLAMINI
Pretoria - Eswatini police allegedly fired tear gas and live ammunition at thousands of mourners who attended the memorial service of murdered university student Thabane Nkomonye over the weekend.
This was after the youth in that country took to the streets in the capital, Manzini, demanding justice for the slain law student.
Swaziland News reported earlier that Nkomonye was allegedly killed by the police before his body was dumped at Nhlambeni, about 3km away from Manzini.
His car was later discovered at Matsapha police station. The car had a bullet hole in it. This prompted a march organised by the University of Eswatini students and the Swaziland National Union of Students, who demanded justice for Nkomonye.
However, the police swiftly responded with brutality and a crackdown on the protesters, who included student leaders and Members of Parliament.
One of the protesters, Phiwayinkosi Dlamini, was shot in the eye and is recovering in the Intensive Care Unit of Mbabane Hospital.
Speaking during a press conference on Sunday afternoon at Nkonyeni Sidvokodvo, Hosea MP Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza said police fired tear gas and disrupted a peaceful memorial service for Nkomonye without any provocation. Mabuza, one of the most influential and vocal MPs calling for democratic reforms in Eswatini, was among the legislators who attended the memorial service in support of the “justice for Thabani protests”.
“We know that the main problem in this country is the government that undermines human rights.
“These police officers take orders to kill people. It is for these reasons that we are now demanding a government for the people that will respect and treat citizens with human dignity,” said Mabuza.
On Saturday, Bafanabakhe Dlamini, the secretary-general of the students’ union, and other students were arrested during the memorial service and charged with malicious damage to property.
Video clips captured at the scene show heavily armed police disrupting Nkomonye’s memorial service and rounding up the protest march leaders.
Speaking during the same press conference, Colani Maseko, the president of the union, said the protests would now intensify.
“It should now be clear that while we demand justice for Thabani and Phiwayinkosi, the protests will now be in line with the growing calls for democracy – we want democracy,” Maseko said.
The same video clips showed the police also targeting another MP, Mduduzi “Magawugawu” Simelane’s car. The influential legislator said the police fired tear gas at his car because they thought he was inside.
“They drove with the tanker to disrupt the memorial service without any provocation, aimed at my car before firing the tear gas.
“But we want to make it clear that we are demanding democracy – we can’t be led by a person who was not elected by the people,” said Simelane.
Eswatini police denied killing Nkomonye, saying they found his car at a chaotic accident scene on the MR9 road between Nhlambeni and KaShali on May 8.
It was surrounded by members of the public. Spokesperson Superintendent Phindile Vilakazi said the driver was missing.
“As usually happens in such accidents where you find that the driver was running away from the police, it was suspected that even this one was fleeing from the police.
“Police then towed the car to Matsapha police station. No one came to identify the car until Tuesday when Thabani’s relatives reported him missing at Manzini police station. They even mentioned the car he was driving,” Vilakazi said.
“There are indications in the car that need further investigations so we can verify if indeed it was a car accident.”
On Sunday last week, Nkomonye’s uncle, Sakhile Dlamini, said the family discovered that Eswatini police tried to conceal evidence by covering the bullet hole in his nephew’s car.
“As we speak, I am on my way to the police station to see what is happening. They told us they are investigating but it seems this is not an investigation but they are trying to cover something up,” he said.
As the protests grew in scale and intensity, acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku yesterday acknowledged the “serious” allegations levelled against the police but said the government would not tolerate any violent protests and “looting”.
“We equally want the truth to come out in this matter and to ensure that police continue to conduct themselves within the confines of ethical standards expected from any police service.
“We are, however, concerned about the violence that erupted on the day of protests on 17 May in Matsapha and Manzini.
“While the right to peaceful protest is assured by our Constitution and the relevant laws that guide such actions in protection of the principles of the rule of law, we cannot accept looting, attacks on the police and damage to public and private property emanating from such protests,” Masuku said.
He accused the protesters of waging a violent campaign against the police and government in Nkomonye’s name.
“We regrettably observed violent protesters looting from street vendors in Matsapha, looting from trucks and businesses, smashing windows of passing cars, attacking police officers and private citizens, burning tyres and trees and even destroying infrastructure at the Matsapha police station, the same infrastructure we all need to effectively fight crime.
“This is highly unacceptable and punishable in accordance with the law.”
Masuku rejected accusations that King Mswati 111’s government violated the rights of its own citizens.
He also appointed senior magistrate Nonhlanhla Dlamini as the coroner to investigate the circumstances surrounding Nkomonye’s death. He promised to release the report to the public.
But government critics questioned the independence of the coroner and described the proposed investigation as a political strategy to silence and mislead the people.