Unrest flares in Eswatini despite curfew to quell pro-democracy riots

Police clashed with demonstrators in Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, on Tuesday night despite a dusk-to-dawn curfew and a military deployment to quell a spate of pro-democracy protests.
Demonstrations are rare in Eswatini, a small landlocked state commonly known as Swaziland.
Political parties are legally banned, but recent weeks have seen violent anti-monarchy demonstrations in parts of the country, with the opposition reporting scores of people injured, many hospitalised.
“The confrontation is not going to end soon,” resident Gugu Dlamini told AFP from the administrative capital Manzini.
“Even after curfew you can still hear gunshots between youths and police in our neighbourhood,” she said.
The government imposed a 6 pm to 5 am curfew earlier on Tuesday, citing rising coronavirus cases.
Internet access has also been cut, according to an AFP reporter.
Witnesses in the two capitals Manzini and Mbabane reported seeing soldiers patrolling the streets where protesters have been burning tyres and stoning cars.
A Manzini resident told AFP she and colleagues were holed up in the restaurant where they worked and were unable to return home.
“Helicopters are extinguishing the fires lit on the roads,” she said, asking not be named.
People had been looting a furniture store and on Monday some shops were burned down, she said.
Shops were ransacked and torched overnight in Matsapha, an industrial hub on the western edge of Manzini, according to several sources.
“The military is on the streets,” Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the pro-democracy grouping Swaziland Solidarity Network, told AFP.
“Yesterday was the worst night ever, where a young man was shot point-blank by the army, and some are in hospital as we speak,” Lukhele charged.
Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku described the unrest as “alarming and upsetting”.
“We have witnessed violence in several parts of the country perpetuated by an unruly crowd where people have been attacked, property destroyed,” he said in a statement.
“Security forces are on the ground to maintain law and order,” he added.
– ‘Tipping point’ –
Wandile Dludlu, secretary general of the People’s United Democratic Movement, said King Mswati III “unleashed armed soldiers and police on unarmed civilians” on Monday.
More than 250 protesters have been injured with gun wounds, broken bones and shock, he said.
Masuku had earlier dismissed media reports claiming the king had fled as “false”.
“We are working around the clock to ensure that the situation is normalised,” he said, adding that nothing could be achieved “in an environment of anarchy”.
The government last week banned protests, with national police commissioner William Dlamini warning that officers would be “zero-tolerant” of breaches of the ban.
The kingdom has traditionally stifled dissent and demonstrations, including by pro-democracy trade unions.
Eswatini is “at a crucial point in the long struggle to get rid of the autocratic monarchy”, the country’s communist party said in a statement.
“The people… have had enough. This is the tipping point.”
Neighbouring South Africa’s left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters party meanwhile called on Eswatini to “intensify militant struggles” against the “despotic” and “dictatorial” royal family.
With unfettered political power over his 1.3 million people and ruling by decree, the king is Africa’s only absolute monarch and one of the few remaining in the world.
Crowned in 1986 when he was just 18, the king has 15 wives and has come under fire for his lavish spending while most inhabitants live below the poverty line.
In 2019, the country was rocked by a series of strikes by civil servants who accused the monarch of draining public coffers at the expense of his subjects.
© Agence France-Presse

Source: Seychelles News Agency