CIVICUS

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Eswatini

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Last updated on 29.10.2021 at 11:12

The Civic Space Developments

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Students, youth, lead calls for democracy in Eswatini

Students, youth, lead calls for democracy in Eswatini

Pro democracy protests continue in Eswatini as police use excessive force; Internet shut down amid the protests;

Peaceful Assembly

Pro-democracy protests continue

On 10th September 2021, various representatives of the Political Party Assembly and other citizens of the country gathered in large numbers outside the offices of the United Nations to deliver a petition. The group called for an end to the monarchy and for democratic reforms in the country. Subsequently, the UN issued a statement on its social media page, expressing its continuous support of the people of Eswatini and that it is “working to help restore peace to the nation”.

In early October 2021, protests flared up again in Eswatini, resulting in the deployment of the military in several parts of the country. Citizens across the country continue to call for democratic reforms and the release of the two Members of Parliament, Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, who have been detained since August 2021.

In August 2021, High Court Judge Dlamini dismissed the MPs’ bail application on the basis that they had failed to provide sufficient evidence against the charges. On 14th September 2021, the same judge, who is also said to be King Mswati’s sister-in-law, dismissed their second bail application. They have appealed to the Supreme Court and their trial, which was initially scheduled for 15th October 2021, has now been delayed to begin in November 2021.The two MPs were arrested on 25th July 2021 for calling for reforms in Eswatini’s political structure, where the country would operate in a multiparty democracy in which citizens elect the Prime Minister.

Students, youth, actively mobilise in protests

Since the eruption of the civil unrest that began in June 2021, young people have played an important role in demanding accountability and democratic reforms in Eswatini. Throughout September 2021, students from high schools and universities across the country held demonstrations and delivered petitions to parliamentary representatives. During the protests, more than five schools and universities participated in mobilising students to call for elections and the right to elect the country’s Prime Minister.

On 19th September 2021, students of William Pitcher College mobilised and made their way to the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, to demand a refund in fees paid for hostels that were unused due to the ongoing pandemic. However, the army was deployed on the evening of the protest action, resulting in students being brutalized, with at least ten of them needing medical attention for injuries sustained.

Following the continued active participation of students in the protests, in mid-October 2020, the military was also deployed to schools across the country as students staged pro-democracy demonstrations and boycotted classes in protest for several weeks. The student protests later led to the indefinite closure of all schools across the country.

Amnesty International South Africa condemned the deployment of the military to the schools. Executive Director Shenilla Mohamed said:

“Soldiers are not trained to deal with public order policing and this is where we see a total violation of rights that takes place. Soldiers are trained to kill. The deployment of them in eSwatini is not a good sign and it is not something as Amnesty International we support.”

On 18th October 2021, the United Nations Secretary General released a statement expressing concern on the ongoing developments in the country, including the deployment of armed security forces to schools, reports of use of excessive force in response to student demonstrations and the indefinite closure of schools. The Secretary General urged the government of Eswatini to allow citizens to exercise their civil and political rights in a peaceful manner, including the rights of children.

By mid October 2021, over 80 people had been killed in the nation wide protests which began in June 2021.

Residents from Nhlangano protest over killing of cannabis farmer

On 3rd September 2021, a police officer in Nhlangano shot and killed Sihle Dludlu, an unarmed young civilian who was making a living through cannabis farming. According to some reports, Dludlu’s death sparked protests by residents of Nhlangano, who demanded justice but were however dispersed by the police using teargas. As reported by Swaziland News, many poor Swazis earn a living through cannabis farming, but are often harassed by police as cannabis is yet to be legalised in the country. 

Expression

Government blocks Internet

Following the sustained protests, the government shut down the internet on 15th October 2021 for several hours. In an article published by the Swaziland News on 18th October 2021, Information Minister Princess Sikhanyiso wrote a letter to Mvilawemphi Dlamini, the Chief Executive Officer of the Eswatini Communication Commission, directing him to facilitate the suspension of social media platforms including Facebook, among others, in what she described as the protection of State security”.

The internet had previously been shut down in late June 2021 when the pro-democracy protests began, as previously documented.

King Mswati III warns against using social media

In early September 2021, King Mswati III warned citizens to refrain from discussing “irrelevant issues” on social media, and rather use the various digital platforms “to add value into their lives”. In his address during the launch of the E1 Billion ($ 67,249,151) Reconstruction Fund, King Mswati pointed out to citizens that they must be careful on how they use social media, and that he is happy to see Swazis using digital communications, but that he was concerned that many Swazis were posting irrelevant content that is not beneficial to them. He further made reference to first world countries saying that their citizens use social media for their financial benefit, and encouraged fellow Swazis to take inspiration from that and be encouraged when they see their fellow citizens succeeding, instead of using social media to accuse others of corruption.

In its 2020 Poverty and Equity Brief, the World Bank ranked Eswatini as “having high levels of poverty for its middle-income status”. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the socio-economic situation in the country, with “increased unemployment and restricted activity especially in the informal sector where most of the poor are employed. As a result, poverty levels are projected to increase”.

King Mswati III bans critics’ music groups from National Stations

In September 2021, King Mswati issued a directive to State-owned radio stations to stop playing music produced by gospel groups owned by Members of Parliament (MPs) Mduduzi Magawugawu Simelane and Timothy Myeni, who are critical of his regime.

When the announcement was made by the Eswatini Broadcasting and Information Services, it was unclear who had issued the order, because the media in Eswatini is prohibited from publishing articles that implicate King Mswati in any wrongful conduct. However, Magawugawu later confirmed with the media that the directive was issued by the King.

Magawugawu is a very prominent pro-democracy activist and member of parliament who has been calling for democratic reforms in Eswatini. During the civil unrest, Magawugawu went into hiding and in August 2021, a warrant of arrest was issued against him.

Association

Swazis boycott Umhlanga ceremony as protests continue

On 4th September 2021, Eswatini held its annual reed dance, a ceremony where the King picks his new bride. According to reports however, a majority of the youth boycotted the event as part of their demonstration in calling for political reforms in the country.

Clan rejects new king imposed by King Mswati

In September 2021, King Mswati III deployed heavily armed police and soldiers at Lusaseni, Ngudzeni to compel the Mamba Clan to accept a relative of King Mswati as their new King. Prior to this, the Mamba Clan, who recognise themselves as independent from the Kingdom of Eswatini, announced King Bhokweni II as successor to King Maja. However, King Mswati was not pleased with this and ordered that the grandson of King Maja, who is a relative of King Mswati, be appointed as the new King, since he is of royal blood.

At present, the Mamba Clan refuses to accept the new King forcefully appointed by King Mswati. 

Association in Swaziland

Although civil society organisations and trade unions can be formed, government infiltration and denial of registration, or deregistration, is common. Repressive sedition and anti-terror laws are used to target dissidents and human rights activists.

Although civil society organisations and trade unions can be formed, government infiltration and denial of registration, or deregistration, is common. Repressive sedition and anti-terror laws are used to target dissidents and human rights activists. The constitutionality of these laws is currently being challenged in court by human rights organisations, but the judiciary’s lack of independence from the government is likely to undermine these efforts. Since 2012 the government has refused to recognise the national trade union federation – TUCOSWA – although it was finally registered on 12 May 2016. Moreover, the prime minister threatened to ‘strangle’ or ‘discipline’ – using the siSwati word ‘Abakhanywe’ – the federation’s secretary general Vincent Ncongwane, a prominent civil society activist. The prime minister made the threat after Ncongwane participated in a Swaziland democracy protest outside the White House in Washington DC. Political parties remain banned. The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the main party operating underground, has been proscribed by government, which views it as a terrorist organisation. Several PUDEMO activists are in jail awaiting trial for a range of offences following recent protests. Government officials often vilify civil society groups, and agents of the state actively undermine efforts to unify the democratic movement in Swaziland.

Peaceful Assembly in Swaziland

Although Swaziland’s constitution provides for this right, people are not freely able to gather in public places. Demonstrations in large urban areas and near the main university campus are rarely allowed to proceed.

Although Swaziland’s constitution provides for this right, people are not freely able to gather in public places. Demonstrations in large urban areas and near the main university campus are rarely allowed to proceed. Tight bureaucratic procedures including prior-approval requirements and close police monitoring keep a lid on many planned protests. In 2014 government refused permission for several protests and marches to take place. Police put protest leaders under house arrest before gatherings commenced and set up cordons on the main access routes to towns, thus preventing the arrival of demonstrators. When protests do occur, police are liberal in their use of batons and tear gas. Torture and arbitrary imprisonment of protestors has been well documented.

Expression in Swaziland

There are no independent daily newspapers in Swaziland. The Times of Swaziland Group of Newspapers is privately owned but far from independent as it bows to powerful interests. Nor are there any independent television or radio stations.

There are no independent daily newspapers in Swaziland. The Times of Swaziland Group of Newspapers is privately owned but far from independent as it bows to powerful interests. Nor are there any independent television or radio stations. There is an independent monthly publication, The Nation, with limited circulation. A number of online blogs post information critical of the government, however few Swazis have access to these. People are not free to express their opinions and, should they choose to do so, they risk being harassed by the police, evicted from their land or denied privileges such as jobs or scholarships for their children. Criticising the King is a serious offence for which citizens and journalists face stiff penalties. Defamation is also a criminal offence in Swaziland and is a charge regularly used to shield powerful public officials from allegations of corruption or wrongdoing. In a widely publicised case in 2014, the government jailed a journalist and editor for two years for contempt of court following an article highlighting judicial corruption. The pair spent over 15 months in prison before being released. Many other activists are forced to live in exile in South Africa having been threatened with jail or death for expressing their views openly. While it is possible to access independent news sources via the Internet in Swaziland, by 2014 less than a third of people were online.