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Catholic Peace Entity Fears for Crisis Escalation in Eswatini amid Protracted Protests

The flag of Eswantini/ Credit: Shutterstock

Catholic charity and peace foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), fears that lives will continue to be lost in the ongoing violence that is fueled by pro-democracy protests in Eswatini, the landlocked Southern African country that is commonly known as Swaziland.

In a Thursday, July 1 interview with ACI Africa, DHPI Director Johan Viljoen said that scores of protesters have already been killed in the violence. Government reports have however denied allegations that people have been killed in the violence.

“Government authorities have maintained that no one has died in the ongoing protests that are mostly staged at night. But our sources say that 18 people have already been killed,” Mr. Viljoen says.

He adds, “There is fear that if this conflict is not resolved urgently, the violence will escalate to an uncontrollable situation and many people will be killed.”

Protests in Eswatini, officially referred to as the Kingdom of Eswatini, were triggered by the death of Thabani Nkomonye in May, a 25-year-old law student at the University of Eswatini, allegedly at the hands of police.

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The first “Justice for Thabani” march is said to have taken place on May 17 and has animated what used to be peaceful protests by trade unionists in the country.

“Swaziland has always been a very quiet country, save for the occasional slow-paced marches by trade unionists. These Marches have always attracted very small crowds,” the DHPI Director tells ACI Africa in the July 1 interview, and adds, “What the country is experiencing now is very different because the ongoing protests have brought on board students, human rights and political activists.”

Those protesting have shifted their focus to calling for meaningful democratic reforms in the country and a Prime Minister that is elected by the people and not appointed by the King.

The official of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) says that on Monday, June 28, some government buildings and several trucks, including those from South Africa that were delivering goods to various towns, were set on fire as the ongoing pro-democracy protests escalated after acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku issued a decree banning the delivery or handover of petitions to government officials and MPs.

And following the banning of protests in the country, protesters are now attacking government facilities and private businesses linked to those in authority, Mr. Viljoen tells ACI Africa.

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The DHPI Director says that a majority of those taking part in the demonstrations are young people and underscores the need for the country to grant protesters what they are asking for.

“Eswatini needs to have democratic reforms with elected representatives. Nothing else will work,” Mr. Viljoen says, adding that whatever is happening in the Southern African country amounts to a “full-blown” EndSARS movement.

The DHPI Director says that those protesting are demanding a representative government and insist that they will not stop the protests “until their demands are met”.

“The people, especially the young people, want a representative government for accountability,” the official of the organization that is working with the Catholic Diocese of Manzini’s Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) to monitor the situation in the country says.

“Young people in Eswatini are aggrieved because of the widespread corruption and poor service delivery in the country,” he says, and adds, “The cost of living has been going up yet salaries remain the same. There is terrible poverty and many areas do not have water.”

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Further, young people are aggrieved that money meant for them is finding its way into the pockets of the top people in leadership, Mr. Viljoen says, adding that the money is mostly used to finance “luxury projects” while civilians lack basic means to survive.

The DHPI Director spoke to Bishop José Luis Gerardo Ponce de Leon of Manzini who narrated seeing many shops on fire on the streets in the country.

“I also spoke to the CJPC official of Manzini and he told me that he had seen so many places set on fire and clouds of smoke in the sky,” Mr. Viljoen told ACI Africa in the Thursday, July 1 interview.

Mr. Viljoen says that both the Bishop and CJPC official also confirmed reports that the country had been cut from internet connection and that all social media platforms had been blocked on Wednesday, June 30.

The DHPI Director told ACI Africa that so far, no church property had been reported destroyed in the country’s unrest.

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