As tension prevails, relatives mourn victims of Eswatini’s crackdown ESwatini News


Forget Mathunjwa and dol. She is also trapped.

His nephew, Sicelo Mathunjwa, 35, was shot in the head on Tuesday evening when Eswatini police dispersed crowds with shots at Matsapha, a small industrial center about 35km from the capital, Mbabane.

“Sicelo is dead, she died on the spot,” Mathunjwa told Al Jazeera, saying she cannot leave her village of Mazombiswe to go to her nephew Hosea’s village, about 30 km (18 miles) away. , and give it their respective endings due to tensions in the small landlocked country formerly known as Swaziland.

For days, Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has been shaken by the largest pro-democracy protests in recent years that have seen security forces involved mostly young protesters challenging a curfew overnight. in street battles.

Mathunjwa said his nephew, a garment factory worker, was a spectator when police opened fire on protesters who had set fire to a building owned by Eswatini Beverages, a company partially owned by King Mswati III.

“He was near the Matsapha brewery that night,” the 59-year-old said in a telephone interview. “My kids went to identify the body at the funeral home and saw a hole in the back of their head.”

Activists from two political movements, the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) and the United People’s Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), told Al Jazeera that at least 40 people had died during the crackdown.

But in a statement issued on Thursday, the office of the acting prime minister, Themba Masuku, said “it has yet to receive official reports on the alleged deaths. We will investigate the allegations.”

Calls for “political plurality, accountability”

While protests demanding political reforms are rare, they are not new in Eswatini.

Tensions have been rising for months in the mountainous kingdom, where the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated socio-economic grievances and the monarch and his close circles have been criticized for living opulent lives while the majority of the country’s population lives in a rampant poverty.

The current protests were sparked by a decree of the king on June 24 banning citizens from sending petitions to parliamentarians to demand democratic reforms. It was followed by a public outcry against the alleged murder by police of a law student, Thabani Nkomonye, ​​in May.

Matsapha businessmen have been looted and set on fire by protesters, but the presence of security forces on the streets has made citizens vulnerable to the use of force.

“Dangerous civil unrest in Eswatini continues, including the use of deadly force by security forces,” the U.S. embassy in the country said. statement this week, observing interruptions in communications.

Meanwhile, a strict night curfew has emptied the streets and shut down the airport and public transportation system. The CPS said 13 of its members have been arrested.

“We are not surprised by the regime’s strong response,” PUDEMO leader Mlungisi Makhanya told Al Jazeera. “We, the people, say we need to open up the constitutional space … for people to make their own decisions about how they want to be governed,” he said.

“We need to move to a new dispensation where there is a political plurality and leadership that is accountable to its people, that does not harden hearts against the monarchy,” he told Al Jazeera.

Although the small kingdom of 1.2 million people supports monarchical rule, Makhanya warned that Mswati’s continued absolutism risked increasing the calls for a republic.

Crowned as regent at the age of 18, Mswati inherited the throne from his father, King Sobhuza II, who banned the registration of political parties in 1973.

Instead, the country’s system allows candidates to run individually in parliamentary seats, without leaving room for a political party that has a majority in parliament. The prime minister is appointed by the king, who holds all executive power.

The king has not addressed the protests throughout the week: a tactic, according to observers, that is in line with the monarchy’s modus operandi when there are problems.

“Pro-democracy sentiments in Eswatini are not new. These are feelings that people have maintained for decades and that the monarchy has been able to eliminate things through a combination of stick and carrot mechanisms, ”said Menzi Ndhlovu, a senior political and country risk analyst at Signal Risk, he said Al Jazeera’s Inside Story show on Thursday.

“In cases of unrest, the monarchy has a tendency to remain silent until things are in order. It is not uncommon for the king to be silent while his generals and police officers do the work, calm the population and, when things are a little calmer, he will probably go out and talk.

Earlier this week, Masuku, the incumbent prime minister, dispelled speculation that Mswati had left the country. He went on to describe the protests as “annoying and alarming” and told people to “address their concerns” to the government by email.

He also maintained the deployment of security forces to ensure order.

“The government has tightened security to restore the rule of law, peace and protect all emaSwati. We will continue to tolerate looting, arson, violence and all other forms of crime targeting businesses and property. of people, ”he said in a statement on Thursday.

A fire on a road in the capital of Eswatini, Mbabane, on Tuesday [AFP]

Calls for dialogue

Thabani Maseko, a lawyer and activist, said growing discontent against the reduction of Mswati citizens could turn into a crisis of legitimacy. During his imprisonment in 2015 for criticizing the judicial system, Maseko wrote an open letter to former U.S. President Barack Obama asking him to persuade other world leaders to press for constitutional change.

However, Maseko believes that the only way out of “total chaos” is dialogue.

“We are trying to reach all civil society stakeholders, trade unions, youth groups, businesses and churches to meet and find consensus. We are trying to create a platform for negotiations with the government, but it is difficult, already that lines of communication don’t work and movement is difficult, ”he said.

“The only way to end this tension is if the government sees that dialogue is needed to work out a way forward,” he said.

However, for politicians living in exile, such as PCS general secretary Kenneth Kunene, the first condition of the dialogue is “a ban on political parties.”

Unable to return to Eswatini for fear of persecution, Kunene and dozens of members of his party have found refuge in neighboring South Africa.

The regional heavyweight, South Africa, on Thursday expressed “great concern” over the actions of the security forces and called on them to exercise “total restraint and protect the lives and property of the people.”

“We are especially concerned about reports of loss of life and destruction of property,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said.

Back in Mazombiswe, Mathunjwa mourns the loss of his nephew and father of three children.

“Her father died a long time ago and she had to take on the role,” he said. “He was the only boy in my brother’s house, he is the only boy in the house, now his sisters will have to take care of the family,” Mathunjwa added.

“We will remember him as a loving and communicative person who united the whole family. That’s really painful for us. “

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