Johannesburg - “It was one of the scariest nights of my life.” That is how Mandla Shoba, a security guard at Inyatsi Construction, describes the night when members of the Pro-Democracy Forces entered his workplace to torch machinery.
Inyatsi Construction, a multinational company, operating in over nine African countries, is one of the companies understood to be on a “hit list” of targets in Eswatini as part of the Pro-Democracy protests.
Shoba and thousands of other workers have been caught in the fight’s crossfire to remove King Mswati III from power. The father of seven explained that on the fateful night of June, he survived an onslaught from gun-wielding individuals linked to an extremist faction of the Pro-Democracy Movement in the country. They have deployed terror in their push for democracy.
The sounds of guns going off caught the attention of the Shoba family. They live on a hill above his workplace. The family watched as he was roughed up. Shoba said after that, he was instructed to call his supervisors to report he had gotten to work and started working.
“After that, they brought out canisters of petrol and started to burn the earth-moving machines in the yard. Shortly after that, my supervisor called again, and they pointed the gun to my head and said I must tell him they were burning,” he said.
The petrol tanks of the machines started exploding as the fires raged on. Shoba said he was advised to call the police to report the matter.
After that, the suspects left the yard, but it took police over an hour to arrive at the scene. After making statements to the police, his attention turned to rushing home to see his family.
He searched for a while and later found them hiding in the bushes. The father of seven said the family was very shaken and thought he had been killed in the attack.
His colleague, Dumisa Dlamini, also indicated that the incident left him severely traumatised.
“We live in fear, and we don’t know what is in store for us,” he said.
The two are part of the thousands of Emaswati who work for Inyatsi Construction who have been left in limbo following attacks at the company’s operations. Over the past year, the company has been attacked numerous times and sustained damages in the region of R65 million.
The latest attack forced the company to suspend its operations and placed workers on unpaid leave as it tightened security in response to the escalating and recurring targeted attacks.
The Kingdom of Eswatini has had violent protests since 2021 when Pro-Democracy Forces/Movements called for the removal of King Mswati III. Arson attacks have become a regular occurrence with houses of those working in government, mainly the police, targeted, and so are individuals perceived to be linked to the king.
Many Emaswati have allegedly had their contact details and addresses posted on social media platforms and news articles by a journalist who is part of the Pro-Democracy Movement, calling for “national braais” at the identified places.
The arson attacks generally followed the posts, and the journalist would allegedly boldly indicate that the Pro-Democracy Forces/Movements were behind them and would not stop. Instead, they would be intensifying their fight.
The country’s chief of police William Dlamini said they were concerned by the ongoing acts of violence and arson throughout the country, affecting individuals and businesses and bearing a severe cost on socio-economic development.
“It should concern all of us as a nation that whilst efforts are underway to rebuild properties damaged during the onset of the unrest that besieged the country in June 2021, there are elements who are still hell-bent on perpetuating the violence, causing more destruction and further undermining the efforts of reinstilling the peace and stability that the country has always enjoyed,” he said.
Dlamini called on citizens to assist with information that would lead to the arrest and subsequent prosecution of the perpetrators of the violence.
He added that they closely monitored threats relating to the “Eswatini Winter Revolution”. The publication reported in April how international companies were funding the movement in a bid to get their hands on recently discovered gold deposits in the country.
The ongoing battles and safety concerns threaten the well-being of many workers. The country has an unemployment rate of 23.4 percent, ranking 11th out of 94 countries globally and fourth in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The country has a poverty rate of 52% and GDP growth of -3.3%.
Inyatsi Construction managing director, Sandile Mhlanga, said the attacks on their sites had left them in shock, affecting operations and thousands of livelihoods.
“Everyone working at Inyatsi feels the effects of what has happened over the past few months. Workers are not getting paid for this duration we are not operating while they have mortgages and debit orders to pay,” he said.
Mhlanga added that while they have been the targets of the “terrorist attacks”, they are not the real victims at the end of the day.
“The real victims are the 2 300 workers who had to sit at home this whole week on unpaid leave because we suspended our operations to reconfigure our safety and security protocols. If you think about it, the average dependency ratio in the country is around 1:7, so we are effectively saying our 2 300 employees and their over 16 000 dependants will bear the brunt of any further disruptions,” Mhlanga said.
He added that Inyatsi also partners with small to medium businesses that employ 600 workers. As a result of the shutdown, 126 companies have lost a stream of income, and their workers will also be impacted.
“Since our sites are shut down, we have had no need for the services of sub-contractors this week. This means the 600 workers and their over 4 000 dependants were affected, including the 126 companies that employ them. These are the real victims of the terror attacks,” he said.