The kingdom of Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, announced the establishment of a curfew on Tuesday, June 29, while the army was deployed to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations by the youth. Protests are rare in this small, landlocked state of 1.3 million people, also known as Swaziland. Political parties are banned there, but in recent weeks violent protests have broken out in some areas.
“The events of the past few days have been quite alarming and upsetting”Prime Minister Themba Masuku said in a statement: “We have witnessed violence in several parts of the country, perpetrated by an uncontrollable crowd, with people attacked and property destroyed. Security forces are on the ground to maintain law and order. “
The government has invoked the increase in cases of Covid-19 contamination to impose a curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Witnesses in the two main towns, Manzini and Mbabane, reported seeing soldiers patrolling the streets, where protesters burned tires and graveled cars.
In Manzini, employees of a restaurant took refuge in the establishment without being able to return home, one of the employees told AFP. “Helicopters put out fires on the roads”, she said on condition of anonymity, adding that shops and a furniture store were set on fire on Monday. Several sources also reported looting and arson in Matsapha, a commercial area west of Manzini.
“People have had enough”
“The soldiers are in the streets”Lucky Lukhele, spokesperson for the Swaziland Solidarity Network, told AFP: “Monday was the worst night ever, a young man was shot at point blank range by the military and some are in hospital as we speak. “ According to Wandile Dludlu, secretary general of the United Democratic Front of Swaziland (SUDF), the king “Mswati yesterday unleashed soldiers and armed police on unarmed civilians”. More than 250 protesters were injured by gunshot, broken bones and shocks, he added.
The prime minister had previously denied rumors that King Mswati III had fled. The ruler is “In the country and continues to rule”, he clarified. The Communist Party said in a statement that the kingdom was “At a crucial moment in the long struggle to get rid of the autocratic monarchy”. “People have had enough”, according to the text. Last week, the government banned protests and Police Chief William Dlamini warned his men would demonstrate ” zero tolerance “.
Crowned in 1986 at the age of 18, Mswati III, who has 15 wives and more than 25 children, is criticized for his iron fist, his escapades and his lavish lifestyle in a country where two thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. In 2019, a series of strikes by officials, accusing the monarch of emptying the country’s coffers to the detriment of his subjects, had already shaken the kingdom.