Umm Muhammed Umar
Southern African countries have deployed envoys to Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, to try to stem the unrest that saw one person killed, and at least 80 people wounded by security forces. The violence took place in the latest wave of pro-democracy protests in the tiny African kingdom. The demonstrations in Eswatini flared up recently, months after authorities loyal to the country’s absolute monarch crushed an earlier round of demonstrations in June. Bheki Makhubu, the editor of Nation Magazine, spoke to Radio Islam about the spate of calls for political reform in Eswatini.
Makhubu said that the country was experiencing challenging economic times, with high unemployment, which has been affecting the youth, and that nothing has been done to address these issues and this has resulted in violent protests.
According to Makhubu, the SADC countries had deployed envoys to Eswatini, led by Special Envoy, former Minister Jeff Radebe, to assess the current situation and to see what the authorities were doing to bring the situation back to normal. He said, “To us, in Eswatini, even though this is happening, you know, to us, and done by us, it is not something that is normal and common among people.” He added, “So, I would get that they [SADC] would be concerned about what’s happening in Eswatini.”
The monarchy has overcome protest movements previously. However, according to Makhubu, the current protests were different. He said that although they had experienced protests just this July, they had been peaceful. Even when protestors had clashed with police, there had been no deaths. However, in Wednesday’s protests, a bus that was transporting people to Mbabane, the capital, was stopped by police. When the passengers refused to disembark, police fired tear gas into the bus. Makhubu said, “It’s not something that we are used to, you know, we as a country between South Africa and Mozambique, we have only known and seen, and have relatives that have experienced this in both countries. But we’ve always had this thing that we should never be like this.”
Regarding whether the situation in Eswatini was expected to calm down soon, Makhubu said that it was difficult to tell. He said that the June protests had continued for over a week, but that Wednesday’s protests had just taken place for that day. While all appeared normal on Thursday with most business open in Mbabane, and most people having returned to work, there was obviously still anger and trauma. He said that it would be understood if protests recurred as the issues the demonstrators had put forward remained unaddressed. He said, “when you are talking about complete regime change, political reform, whatever you want to call it, there seems to be consensus that this country is not moving in the right direction, something needs to change.” Makhubu added, “Unfortunately, the person so far who we know needs to make that move towards that change is the king, and until he sort of says, “Come, let’s talk, let’s see what’s going on, what can we do better,” I guess people are still going to keep making noise to get his attention.”
Mkhubu said that there was currently a standoff as while the king, Mswati lll, had promised dialogue, he had recently added that he would not hold talks with anyone who seemed ‘drunk’ or ‘mad’. He said the people of Eswatini were impatient to get talks underway. The volatile situation in Eswatini was a culmination of problems that has been building up over a long period of time.
Meanwhile, the latest reports indicate that at least two people were killed and dozens injured in clashes with security forces, who fired tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. The Eswatini government has also stopped issuing protest permits. It has, however, restored access to the internet, after imposing a blackout for the past two days.