As police continue to crack down on pro-democracy protests in Eswatini, PSI has published a statement strongly condemning the police brutality and reaffirming its solidarity with the people and all the workers in the Kingdom. PSI affiliates in the country continue to demand better, fairer and safer working conditions and a strong public sector.
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PSI notes the announcement made by the Government of Eswatini that it is willing to find a negotiated settlement to the ongoing crisis brought about by the pro-democracy protests which have been going on for some time now. PSI notes that this announcement comes after the intervention of the SADC mission headed by South Africa. PSI is concerned that this announcement is more symbolic than a genuine attempt to listen to the people of Eswatini. This is because the government wants to negotiate only after the Incwala ceremony is concluded. The ceremony has not commenced yet, and may only end in February 2022, showing a clear lack of urgency on the part of the government.
The government’s offer to host a Sibaya is also concerning, as this forum really lacks transparency, minutes are not always taken, and decisions taken are not carried out. We urge the government to genuinely acknowledge the need for true and meaningful reforms and not try to placate the international community that they are addressing the legitimate demands of the people of Eswatini.
Protests in Manzini, Eswatini on 26 October 2021
As PSI, we were shocked and condemn in no uncertain terms, the use of live ammunition on unarmed citizens practising their fundamental right to protest.
If the appeal for calm and the announcement that the king is willing to take part in a national dialogue are genuine, the right conditions for such a dialogue to take place must be created. As such, the unions along with political parties and civil society have demanded the release and dropping of all charges against the MPs who were arrested for their role in calling for democratic reforms. Additionally, they have demanded that the charges against a third MP who is hiding must be dropped, political prisoners must be released and no more should the police continue to hunt down activists. There must also be a neutral and legitimate platform on which meaningful negotiations can take place and where monitoring mechanisms can be put in place to monitor the implementation of decisions taken.
We also hope that SADC, by virtue of having been the mediator under which the commitment to a national dialogue was made, shall be the guarantor and overseer of the process so that the outcome will meet the people’s aspirations. We note that the last delegation of SADC had to return to the country after calls from civil society demanding that their voiced be heard. It will be tragic for SADC’s reputation, which is already tainted, to go to the kingdom to try and buy time for the King. The world has not forgotten how the sub-regional organisation endorsed a clearly flawed electoral process in Malawi which was eventually overturned by the country’s courts.
As things stand, the myth that the Government has always sold to the outside world - that emaSwati are a peaceful people who are proud, happy and united by their culture and who love their king as the custodian of that culture - has been dispelled by the ongoing pro-democracy protests in the kingdom. While they may be proud of their culture, they are not happy with the political dispensation obtaining in the kingdom. People want to enjoy their culture as well as their political freedoms and rights.
It has now become very clear that it is not true that the people who are protesting and calling for democratic reforms are the minority. We have seen how the protests have been waged by even the conservative rural people, the youth, the school children, ordinary citizens and trade unions, which represent a broad spectrum of the emaSwati citizens. Time has now come for the king to take the people seriously as opposed to his denialism under which he was blaming foreign elements and those high on cannabis for instigating the protests.
Things are where they can never go back to the quiet days without any reforms. The country is at a crossroads and the government has clear choices: either to hold the so-called national dialogue and initiate a genuine political reform process and put the country on the road to sustainable peace; or to continue employing iron-fisted and violent measures and risk sinking the country further into turmoil. EmaSwati have risen and are taking a firm stand calling for democracy, and it will be folly for the Monarchy to think that they can just ignore them, or violently supress them.
We fully support the calls for a multi-party democracy, and for the release of the detained MPs as well as all political prisoners.
Up until now, the government's approach, as demonstrated by the images being shown on international media channels, has been to use force, sometimes brutal, lethal force, to try and suppress the protests. As PSI, we were shocked and condemn in no uncertain terms, the use of live ammunition on unarmed citizens practising their fundamental right to protest.
A most recent and shocking example was when our members engaged on a march to hand over a petition to the Ministry of Public Service. The demands were to call for a salary review for 2021, to put an end to casualisation of the public service, to stop privatisation of the public service and to stop trade union bashing. The Police National Commissioner attempted to silence the workers by banning the public sector unions citing ‘national security’ and ‘public safety and order’. When workers still gathered to legitimately hand over a march having followed all necessary protocol, the Commissioner ensured it did not proceed by dispersing workers using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. In one incident, tear gas was fired into a bus with public services workers. The doors of the bus were closed. As workers tried to leave, they were shot at. Eventually, the back windows were broken, and workers manged to escape. We note that some nurses underwent surgery from their injuries.
It is incredible that a country that is in the middle of fighting a Pandemic like the rest of the world, should turn its guns on those people central to this fight. As PSI we are outraged at such a terrible betrayal of health workers in particular and public service workers in general who, not so long ago were being hailed as heroes and heroines for having bravely and selflessly led the fight against the COVID 19 virus, often without the necessary PPE's.
We also note with dismay, that as of the 25th of October the Minister of Housing and Urban Development had banned political marches in the country’s towns. We view this as the further shrinking of the freedoms of the people and a measure to completely silence the dissenting voices as this is in addition to the banning of the delivering of petitions. This, needless to say, clearly goes against the spirit of convergence towards the national dialogue.
PSI therefore hereby reaffirms its solidarity to the people and all the workers of the Kingdom of Eswatini. We fully support the calls for a multi-party democracy, and for the release of the detained MPs as well as all political prisoners. We stand in solidarity with all the people opposed to the gross police violence that is now commonplace in Eswatini. And we stand in solidarity with affiliates in their demands for better, fairer and safer working conditions and a strong public sector. We are assured that victory is certain!