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Thousands languishing at home as attacks in Eswatini lead to safety concerns

Fuel tankers burning in Eswatini. Picture: Swazi News

Fuel tankers burning in Eswatini. Picture: Swazi News

Published Jun 21, 2022


Johannesburg - Thousands of Emaswati who work for Inyatsi Construction have been left in limbo following attacks at the company’s operations.

After an arson attack last week, the company suspended its operations Monday, resulting in over 2 300 workers being sent home. They would not be earning a salary until the company resumes operations.

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According to sources in the kingdom, the company is reeling from arson attacks and damage to infrastructure, allegedly at the hands of Pro-Democracy movements.

In a statement released by the company, it indicated it had taken a proactive stance to tighten security in response to the escalating and recurring targeted attacks that have resulted in the destruction of machinery and equipment at three of its sites over the last year.

According to the company, the attacks have caused damage of over R65 million.

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“These malicious attacks have created an unsafe working environment for our dedicated teams, and we have decided to reconfigure and heighten our security protocols. During this period, our direct employees will have to be on unpaid leave whilst ongoing projects valued at over R 700 million in the current financial year have to be temporarily suspended,” the company said.

“We can no longer defer enhancing our security and safety measures in the face of sustained attacks perpetrated by terrorists still at large.”

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.

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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.

Protests have been a regular feature in Eswatini. Picture: Swazi News

The owners of Inyatsi Construction are perceived to be linked to King Mswati. As a result of that narrative, the company has been at the centre of some of the arson attacks. At least three sources in Eswatini have told the Sunday Independent that those responsible for the attacks believed they were inflicting pain and frustration on King Mswati, who they believe has been delaying the country's proposed dialogue.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa greets King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Eswatini.

“There is this misconception that the company has ties with the King, which is not true. They believe the company is making its money through government contracts assisted by the King but look at the situation now. The ordinary people are now suffering," said a source speaking anonymously.

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%.

“The company currently has 18 projects in the country, including roads, water projects, maintenance, township developments and agricultural development projects,” said the source.

The publication has established that the site that was attacked at the Sigombeni was part of the Eswatini Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise (ESWADE), which the European Union funds. According to ESWADE, the EU, through its National Development Plan (2021-2027), set aside €14.545 million (R278.37 million) to achieve increased Water Storage Capacity; Enhanced Production Capacity for Smallholders and Strengthened Institutional Capacity.

It is still unknown what the impact of the attack on the site would be on the project and if the EU would still fund it. However, the company indicated that it would be negligent for them to continue with the 18 projects as if it were business as usual.

“These 18 projects include roads, water projects, maintenance, township developments and agricultural development projects which all directly impact communities, including vulnerable groups. Although Inyatsi Construction is a clear target of these attacks, the company itself is not the real victim. The incalculable and far-reaching consequences of these attacks have been sadly borne by the communities, sub-contractors and employees who rely on the company," read the statement.

“As Inyatsi Construction, we value our human resources, and their safety is of utmost importance. As we reconfigure our operations to heighten safety and security protocols in the wake of sustained attacks, we have seen it prudent to suspend operations temporarily for security reasons,” read the statement.