Pro-democracy protesters in Eswatini have challenged a curfew overnight to demand constitutional reforms as tensions rise in the latest African absolute monarchy.
Demonstrations erupted Monday in the small, landlocked kingdom formerly known as Swaziland, with protesters taking to the streets in the two largest cities of Manzini and Mbabane.
The government has put in place soldiers to reduce rabies and has imposed a curfew from sunset to dawn Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., citing growing cases of coronavirus. However, witnesses continued to report unrest during the evening and night, with violent clashes between protesters and police and reported looting incidents.
Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the Swaziland Solidarity Network for Democracy, said “eight militants were shot dead during the night” in Manzini, the country’s administrative capital, according to the AFP news agency.
Lukhele said they were among 28 protesters who had been shot, some of whom were taken to hospital in the early hours of the morning.
Authorities have not confirmed any deaths. But in a note On Wednesday, the U.S. embassy in the kingdom said: “Dangerous civil unrest continues in Eswatini, including the use of deadly force by security forces.”
Meanwhile, Lukhele said Internet access had been restricted since Tuesday, accusing the government of a shutdown. The U.S. embassy also said Internet services are “expected to degrade since Internet Service Projects were said to be closed.”
Wandile Dludlu, secretary general of the United People’s Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), said businesses had been closed and cities “managed by soldiers” on Wednesday.
“Between yesterday and today, we have had new reports of nearly 18 people being shot,” he told AFP.
“We slept with the sound of guns and we woke up with guns,” said Mbongwa Dlamini, head of the Swaziland teachers ’association. “The looting and destruction of properties have become intense.”
Dlamini added that a brewery partly belonging to King Mswati III had been set on fire.
‘The land of a man’
With unrestricted political power over his 1.3 million people and ruling by decree, the king is the only absolute monarch of Africa and one of the few remaining in the world.
Crowned in 1986 when he was only 18 years old, the king has 15 wives and was put under fire for his lavish expenses while most of the inhabitants lived below the poverty line.
“We are the youth of Swaziland and we are so depressed by the government,” said a young male protester. “Our government is not fair; it is only the land of one man. “
Demonstrations are rare in Eswatini, where political parties are not allowed to run in national elections. In 2019, the country was shaken by a series of strikes by officials accusing the monarch of draining public coffins to the detriment of his subjects.
Although people are allowed to vote for members of parliament, the opposition says the process is not an election – rather a selection of people signed by the king.
“We, young people of the land, do not want the king to be part of the government,” said Sakhile Nxumalo, a member of Swaziland’s Youth Congress. “And if he wants to be part of the government, he must first be a citizen like the rest of us and go to work like any of us.”
Resident Gugu Dlamini told AFP from Manzini that “the confrontation will not end soon.”
“Even after the curfew you can still hear gunfire between young people and police in our neighborhood,” Dlamini said.
Witnesses in Manzini and Mbabane said they saw soldiers patrolling the streets where protesters burned tires and stoned cars.
A Manzini resident told AFP that she and her colleagues were trapped in the restaurant where they worked and were unable to return home.
“Helicopters extinguished the blazing fires on the roads,” he said, asking not to be called.
The incumbent Prime Minister Themba Masuku described the riots as “alarming and shocking”.
“We have seen violence in many parts of the country perpetuated by an undisciplined crowd where people have been attacked, properties destroyed,” he said in a statement.
“Security forces are on the ground to maintain order and order,” he added.
“We are a nation that believes in dialogue. The government has opened an email address where Emaswati can continue to address his concerns and petitions. ”