World, Africa

Eswatini’s king under pressure amid mounting civil disobedience

Thousands of students hold nationwide protests calling for democratic reforms

Phathizwe Zulu   | 12.10.2021
Eswatini’s king under pressure amid mounting civil disobedience

MANZINI, Eswatini 

Pressure is mounting on Eswatini’s King Mswati III to institute reforms and introduce multiparty democracy as student protests continued and soldiers and police were deployed to quell them.

King Mswati III is Africa's last absolute ruler, and under his 35 years of rule by decree, the tiny southern African kingdom of about 1.2 million people has been subjected to a state of poverty.

Thousands of students took part in a nationwide protest Monday, blocking roads, burning tires and vandalizing school property and public vehicles, forcing many schools to close.

The army was deployed to certain schools while the police were involved in violent confrontations with students.

Nombulelo Motsa, president of the Economic Freedom Fighters of Eswatini, stood by the actions of the students.

"The children know exactly what is needed and they are doing just that. They support and want multi-party democracy," said Motsa.

"Education in this country is becoming more useless with the current regime of the traditional royal system, and if it is removed, we can have free and quality education for all. That's what we are advocating for," she added.

Wandile Dludlu, secretary general of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, said: "We are calling all pupils, students and youth in general to take up the challenge and seize the moment. The future belongs to the youth, and they must build it themselves. And the higher step to build it is to fight the royal traditional system of governance because the system makes sure that they live as second-class citizens in the land of their birth. They must fight and never retreat.”

However, the communications manager in the king's office, Percy Simelane, said: "We have one of the best democracies in the world, where the electorate nominates and votes for their representation in parliament as opposed to situations where party leaders impose themselves on the voters.”

"Our system has been tried and tested for over half a century. The traditional royal system of governance is reviewed every five years and 100% of the time it got the people's endorsement. If there are governance changes to be made, they just have to be constitutional," said Simelane.

The students have also called for the immediate release of two members of parliament, Mduduzi Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, who were arrested in July under the sweeping Terrorism Act of 2008. Judge Mumcy Dlamini denied them bail. A third member of parliament, Mduduzi Simelane, fled to South Africa in fear of arrest.

The three vocal members of parliament were the first to challenge King Mswati in parliament and called for the election of a prime minister by the people. The constitution gives King Mswati executive power to appoint the prime minister of his choice.

Their arrest came after June countrywide protests where people looted and burnt shops and trucks. In a state of shock, King Mswati imposed a curfew and deployed the army, which killed several youth.

The members of parliament were arrested on allegations that they were behind the violent June protests.

However, Simelane said "it's the laws of the land that saw the two legislators arrested and detained. They are facing criminal charges. These laws are debated and passed by parliament. It would be therefore unfortunate if anyone believed our laws are debated and passed elsewhere [king].”

"In this country, it is the courts that try and sentence suspects. It would be therefore unprocedural for anyone to release them before their trial in a court of law. We believe the men and women of honor in our courts are competent enough to deal with the case in question," Simelane added.

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