The protests come in the wake of the death of Thabani Nkomonye, a law student at the University of Eswatini who was killed on the 14th of May 2021. While the police have claimed he died in a car accident, this has not been an adequate explanation and there are many unresolved questions that the police have failed to answer to family, fellow students, comrades, and the country. An inquest has been set up, but students took to the streets to demand #JusticeForThabani.
While calling for an end to police brutality, the students took their demands further by calling for a multiparty democracy. Since these protests began, more student union leaders have been arrested and some granted bail, but the actions have now become widespread with trade unions, civil society and banned political parties taking part in the civil action.
In the past two weeks, the people of Swaziland have demanded:
To democratically elect a Prime Minister of Swaziland and to have a multiparty democracy
An end to police brutality
Basic public services such as access to electricity and roads
Access to healthcare and procurement of medicines for hospitals and COVID-19 vaccines.
An end to student victimization
Social support such as elderly and disability grants
Support for youth and unemployed peoples
Unions for police services, and for an end to union-bashing
An end to privatisation
Calls for democracy, an end to Tikhundla
The demand for a democratic election of a Prime Minister in Swaziland has been a long-held demand of trade unions, students, and banned political parties. This call was recently made popular again, after pro-democracy Members of Parliament raised the issue and were challenged to pass it through the Tikhundla system.
The Tikhundla system organises Swaziland into 59 areas like districts, and public office is held by elected individuals, but not elected party representatives. These elected individuals, together with some representatives appointed by the monarchy, make up parliament. The monarchy has power over the state assets and resources, and the King can appointment family and friends to political office without due process, accountability and mechanisms for dissent. The system also is highly patriarchal with only a handful of women ever making it to Parliament.
To the surprise of the monarchy and its supporters, the call to elect a Prime Minister has received overwhelming support with many people and groups petitioning in support of independent elections. In response, the Swaziland police force used intimidatory tactics to silence MPs and political leaders.
PSI condemns the government’s attempts to isolate the country through internet and network cuts, hindering communication within the country and to the international community
In the past week, the government has banned all marches and petition gatherings, with the police threating to take strong action against protestors. Ironically, Covid-19 restrictions were the reason government claimed to ban gatherings. Political suppression is not new in Swaziland, and in 2019 we saw police violence taken against public sector trade unions demanding an increase in wages. Threats, intimidation, arrests and raids are commonplace for members of political parties that are banned under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
PSI condemns the government’s attempts to isolate the country through internet and network cuts, hindering communication within the country and to the international community. Network cuts affect communication, and also the daily life of people who cannot access online services such as banking or online purchasing of electricity. To make matters worse, the country is also experiencing shortages of fuel.
The missing King
Amidst all this, the King has not been seen and government has denied rumours that he fled the country. After announcing that he is in isolation, the acting Prime Minister has been the face of government’s response to the protests.
For progressive movements in Swaziland, this moment is a culmination of years of campaigning. The unrest is being led by the youth of Swaziland who are demanding change amidst a youth unemployment crisis, and a massive decline in the most basic public services.
The health system for example is largely eroded with hospitals struggling to operate with limited access to drugs and medical supplies, equipment, and beds to treat patients. Proper roads and access to electricity are not guaranteed especially in rural areas. This is despite the government having the budget to spend more on public services.
PSI stands in solidarity with the people of Swaziland and supports the call for democracy
A luta Continua!