Johannesburg - There are claims that at the centre of the pro-democracy movement riots in eSwatini is a sponsored move for a power grab of resources funded by prominent international organisations with vested interests in the kingdom’s minerals.
The Sunday Independent can today reveal that from 2020 to date, pro-democracy movements in the country have been given over R130 million to fund sporadic protests calling for the removal of King Mswati.
The publication has also learnt that plans are under way for further demonstrations set for June this year under the banner “eSwatini Winter Revolution”.
According to records of meetings held in Mauritius and Kigali, Rwanda, in February and April by the alleged sponsors and instigators of the protests, large sums of money have been pledged towards the revolution.
According to a classified report seen by The Sunday Independent, a private US equity investment firm that controls assets worth over $50 billion (R770 billion), which is known to the publication, has been identified as a significant funder of the revolution.
The report and sources who were part of the meetings said the US organisation National Democratic Institute had allegedly committed to contributing $22 million (R330 million) to the pro-democratic forces in the country, with the equity investment firm providing the bulk of the funding.
"There was a meeting held at Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali, Rwanda, on February 2, 2022 that pledged large sums of money towards the (revolution). There was another one on the weekend of April 11 to 13 at Ebene Cybercity Quatre Bornes in Port Louis, Mauritius, where the fate of eSwatini was discussed," said a source who was at the meeting.
According to the source, some of those present at the meetings were Mariela Belski of Amnesty International, Justine Lavarde and Hassatou Ba-Minte from the International Federation for Human Rights, eSwatini journalist Zweli Martin Dlamini, and NDI’s Gemima Barlow.
During the meeting, it is claimed that a blueprint for the removal of King Mswati, which indicated he would be toppled "Sudanese-style, Burkina Faso-style, Egyptian-style and Tunisian-style", was presented.
Other key roleplayers behind the alleged eSwatini plot include journalists in the country and politicians and organisations based in South Africa. They allegedly include Dlamini and One SA Movement leader Mmusi Maimane.
According to the dossier, at the centre of the concerted move for regime change are three gold deposits in Mbuluzi Game Park and access to arable land in the country for an SA-based NGO.
The eSwatini government communications department could not comment on the gold deposits. Still, The Sunday Independent has established that it had spoken to a local reporter about the matter.
In response to that article, the country’s chief geologist in the minerals department, Dr Noah Nhleko, said their minerals exploration exercise had not been finalised and he would not be comfortable confirming what was available.
A spokesperson for the King's Office, Percy Simelane, said the UN and the AU were required to deal decisively with elements hell-bent on causing anarchy in the country.
Simelane said: "The United Nations and African Union have to come out of their slumber and whip into line member states that have become springboards for dismantling peace and stability in other countries such as eSwatini.
“We take the threats of destabilising eSwatini by power and mineral sharks with the seriousness they deserve. If need be, we shall defend our country until the last atom of our strength from all assigned commandos.”
The Sunday Independent has established that the dossier has been handed to three heads of state on the continent.
Dlamini and Maimane were contacted for comment and sent questions three weeks ago, to which they failed to respond.
The questions included ones about whether they had held subsequent meetings in South Africa following the Mauritius clandestine gathering and Dlamini's meeting with Amnesty International.
Amnesty International allegedly indicated it was not prepared to have its name associated with a coup and regime-change attempts.
According to insiders at Amnesty International, the top leadership was livid about the Mauritius meeting and ordered its employee not to take part in an “unsanctioned” programme.
"There was a virtual meeting held on April 20 where Amnesty International secretary-general Dr Agnes Callamard addressed the meeting and said Amnesty International does not support the violent transfer of powers, including coups and civil war. Amnesty International said it could not publish the report presented in Mauritius during this meeting," said the source.
"The organisation viewed the report as a way of propping up the democratic forces’ scheduled June protests. It realised that the International Federation for Human Rights has a different political agenda totally in eSwatini and is interested in regime change in eSwatini," added the source.
That meeting was allegedly followed by another one with Dlamini on April 23 at The Forum/Embassy Hill in Cape Town. Here Dlamini learned that Amnesty International was no longer willing to be part of the publication of the report “Holding King Mswati to Account”.
The organisations mentioned at the meetings have vehemently denied their involvement in the plot.
Amnesty International's Robert Shivambu said the organisation had not been involved in arranging the meeting and therefore it was “unable to confirm any details”.
"Our work in eSwatini has been calling for the respect of freedoms, especially human rights, including freedom of association, assembly and expression for years, including during the recent pro-democracy protests, and our call remains.
“Defending human rights and expressing critical views have been criminalised, and authorities have systematically crushed freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly," he said.
"As protests continue to intensify, authorities have deployed security forces to crush dissent, closed schools indefinitely, and instructed mobile telephone network companies to shut down the internet and social media platforms."
Shivambu added that Amnesty International’s work was independent of any political ideology, economic interest or religion, and it believed that no government was beyond scrutiny where human rights are involved.
"We do not call for the removal of any government – our job is to monitor human rights violations where and when they occur and remind governments of their human rights obligations," he said.
However, Shivambu failed to respond to specific questions put to the organisation and was selective in choosing which questions he answered.
When pushed for a response to all the questions, Shivambu said: "Amnesty International is not aware of any meeting(s) related to eSwatini or discussing eSwatini, including the royal family.
“We are also not aware of any report written regarding eSwatini by third parties. Amnesty International's reports are commissioned from within, and they go through rigorous quality assurance before they are released to the public.”
"Further, Amnesty International has no interest in participating in the so-called 'regime change' agenda anywhere, because our mandate is protecting and defending human rights in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
“Amnesty International would like to place on record that Mariela has never been to Mauritius in her entire life in any capacity. So all the questions raised below don't trigger an investigation about her."
NDI's senior government relations and communications manager Victoria Benner denied the organisation had ever provided funds to Dlamini and the pro-democracy forces. She said the letter containing the organisation's credentials and Barlow's signature was fake.
"The purported letter is a fake. NDI is unaware of and has not participated in any meeting in Mauritius, as claimed. NDI does not have any personal, professional or contractual relationship with Mr Zweli Dlamini and has not provided him with any financial or material resources," she said.
Benner further directed the publication to a Facebook post by the US embassy in eSwatini responding to a media article relating to the same meetings. The US embassy denied its government's involvement in any plots.
The embassy maintained that any allegation that the US has been providing funding, support, or assistance to pro-reform demonstrators in eSwatini was categorically false.
"Our interests are to help eSwatini heal and move forward with a responsive and stable political system that supports and uplifts the country.
“The US government invests in health and economic development initiatives that benefit all emaSwati. It is in no one's interest to see facilities and services disrupted by political unrest.
“We reiterate that an honest, constructive dialogue with all stakeholders at the table is essential. Inclusive, peaceful, and constructive dialogue on issues of concern to all emaSwati will help this country move forward and heal," the embassy wrote.
The International Federation for Human Rights did not respond to questions sent via email.