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Catholic Peace Foundation Expresses Concerns about Growing Instability in Eswatini

Logo of Swaziland's Catholic Diocese of Manzini. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The leadership of the Catholic charity and peace foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), has expressed concerns about the protracted political instability characterized by demonstrations and violence in Eswatini.   

In a report shared with ACI Africa Thursday, October 21, DHPI officials who note that Africa’s only absolute monarchy has witnessed a rise in pro-democracy groups since the beginning of the year, highlight recent cases of police brutality against protesters clamoring for multipartyism. 

“There is growing concern about the ongoing political and security situation in the Kingdom of Eswatini. The past week has seen protests for political reform and against the brutality of the police,” DHPI officials say.

Unrest in Eswatini began in May when university students took to the streets to call for accountability for the death of their colleague, 25-year-old Thabani Nkomonye, allegedly at the hands of the police.

In late June, the protests grew into daily pro-democracy marches in several locations in Eswatini, with protesters voicing deep-seated political and economic grievances. The police violently suppressed the pro-democracy in July. At least 50 people were reported dead.  

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The demonstrations that had remained low-key in the Southern African nation have now resurfaced with calls for the release of pro-democracy lawmakers, Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, who were arrested on July 25 taking the lead. 

The two Members of Parliament (MPs) are being charged for terrorism under section 5 (1) of the Suppression of Terrorism Act of 2008 and for the alleged murder of one, Thando Shongwe.

Security agencies have also issued a warrant of arrest for MP Mduduzi Simelane of the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).

“The current renewed wave of protest erupted when police shot dead a man in a group of commuter bus operators protesting for political reform,” DHPI officials says in their report shared with ACI Africa. 

They note that protesters “are calling for the release of two lawmakers arrested during pro-democracy protests earlier this year.”

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The leadership of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) say the lawmakers were “using their constitutional rights, as well as their right as MPs, to agree to matters which they deem of national interest.”

“All three called for reform of Eswatini’s political structure, and for a multiparty democracy. The three became key figures in the run-up to the protests in June this year that led to the deaths of at least 50 people, calling on the government to consider protesters’ demands and allow them to deliver petitions to local constituency offices,” DPHI officials say. 

They add in reference to the two detained MPs and the one being sought, “The three became key figures in the run-up to the protests in June this year that led to the deaths of at least 50 people, calling on the government to consider protesters’ demands and allow them to deliver petitions to local constituency offices.”

DPHI officials note that “the government’s ban on petitions ignited the unrest, which led to widespread demonstrations. An end to police brutality was also a rallying call for protesters.”

They add that the people of God in Eswatini have been building up anger against King Mswati III for years. 

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“Eswatini has a poverty rate of 69.2 percent. Protestors allege that the King has funded an extravagant lifestyle for himself and his 15 wives, including a handful of palaces, using public money. However, the King denies accusations of autocratic rule and of using public money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the impoverished nation,” the leadership of the Catholic peace entity says.

The King was also seen to disregard protesters’ request to elect the country’s Prime Minister by appointing Cleopas Dlamini as the new Premier.

King Mswati III has previously been quoted as saying that the pro-democracy the protests were illegitimate, terming them a plot to sow divisions among his people. 

Meanwhile, church leaders in the Kingdom previously known as Swaziland have asked the government to stop using the COVID-19 situation to postpone dialogue that they say will restore peace in the country experiencing protracted protests.

“Currently the COVID-19 pandemic is used as an excuse for not starting dialogue, but we have seen many national gatherings taking place in the midst of the pandemic,” leaders of the Council of Swaziland Churches say in their statement circulated Tuesday, October 19.

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The church leaders warn that failure to address people’s grievances is creating an angry generation and add, “The need for meaningful engagement cannot be overemphasized and dialogue cannot be postponed any further.”

“The Council of Swaziland Churches believes that whenever there are differences of opinion and conflicts between people the only way to resolve them is through dialogue where all people will have a chance to present their views,” the representatives of church leaders in Eswatini say.