Eswatini Is Burning & The Whole World is Watching
This account of events in Eswatini is written by an activist in Eswatini, using the nom de plume, Swazi Che Guevara:
How I wish I could have made my first contribution to an international publication under different circumstances, not the one we are currently experiencing. Since yesterday I have been trying to come up with words to describe this hell we are living under to someone outside our country, so that they may see this mess vividly. Words fail me, I won’t lie. How do you enlighten someone that 72 citizens were shot and killed mercilessly by the kings’ armed forces, in the space of a week, because they had the courage to hold their leader accountable? Some were with other comrades, some in front of their family members, and others were alone when they met their untimely deaths. How I wish they could be here to tell their tales! However, as we now know, their right to life was revoked by those in power. The only encouragement I have right now is the fact that the departed comrades would want their story to be told by us, who were with them as they took their last breath, rather than the evil regime.
I am sure you are conflicted in your mind, trying to figure out which narrative is true between the one told by us on the ground and the one the rest of the world has been sold by the tyrant for some time. Well, if that is the case, you are not alone. Many of our fellow Africans view the kingdom of Eswatini as a champion of peace and paragon of harmony, having kept its culture and tradition through and beyond colonisation. Well, to get the picture vividly, all previously known assumptions should be forgotten because they are lies. This state has been rotten for ages now.Where It All Began!
This confusion we are trying to correct was a mistake our parents encouraged when they allowed the then king, King Sobhuza II, also known as Nkhotfotjeni (ask Zulus the meaning of this word to better understand this monster), to nullify the 1968 constitution through the April 1973 decree.
Sobhuza issued a statement announcing that he had assumed supreme power in the kingdom; taking all judicial, executive and legislative power and entrusting them upon himself. He continued to announce that all armed forces had been posted to strategic locations, to take charge of all government and all public services. This decree made the ground fertile for repression, and made it easy for the present dictator to rule by an iron fist unopposed. Since then, the most inhumane decisions have been taken, and all opposition jailed. Sobhuza introduced the tinkhundla system to bluff the world, so that he could be accepted internationally and not seen as a dictator.
The world has been told that we have a democratic system which allows us to elect our own representatives to the legislative house, however this is not how it works. Parliament is divided into two houses, the House of Assembly and the Senate. The House of Assembly is made up by the members of our parliament elected by the people from the 55 constituencies, with some appointed by the king. The Senate is made up almost entirely of members appointed by the king, with only 5% of its members being elected by the masses. The king chooses his Ministers from the Senate, and they have the executive power. No matter how much the elected MPs lobby for reforms, only the Senate can give the approval necessary to effect any change.
Why is this important? Well, it shows why the government is not for the people… and why those appointed serve the one who appoints. They do not have the people’s interests at heart. After much sustained pressure and activism, Mswati handpicked his own team to come up with a useless constitution in 2005, which, notwithstanding, he never follows; hence the continued unconstitutional appointment of Prime Ministers over the years. These appointed individuals make sure he is above the law. Constitutionally, he can neither be questioned nor held accountable. He long ago began to show us his arrogance, and helped himself to the public purse with the help of the late Prime Minister Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini. In my lifetime I have experienced all types of poverty you can ever imagine, and if it were not for the international donors, hunger and HIV would have wiped us out a long time ago.Results Of The Absolute Monarch
I am positive you can attest to the fact that some of the brightest Swazi minds choose to abandon ship and look for greener pastures in other countries. Many of our relatives rely on the South African economy for survival. They choose to be foreigners in a foreign country, rather than to be led by a mad king. A king who chooses to use tax payers’ money to buy fleets of luxury cars and maintain his extravagant lifestyle, than to build hospitals and schools. Some of our elders are constantly apprehended for stealing grants in South Africa so that they can make ends meet. Currently, at home, they earn R1 500 after three months; which is nowhere near enough.
Making a living in our country is hard; more than 70% of the citizens live beneath the poverty line. Healthcare is in ruins, and most hospitals are without medication as we speak. Terminally ill patients are idling hopelessly in wards without any help, and are left to die on their hospital beds because the Phalala Fund was looted by the king and his people. Even in the past weeks, the people who were shot had to stay with the bullets in their bodies for some time, because of this shortage. As a result, some developed infections. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has not bought any vaccines for citizens, relying instead on handouts from donors. Most schools are without proper equipment and some are short-staffed, yet parents pay high school fees.
The youth are left to fend for themselves, even though 80% of the population is 33 years and younger, making them the overwhelming majority. 47% of them are unemployed. Even if they do qualify for study at tertiary institutions, they do not get sponsored. After graduating they lie idle at home with nothing to do. Surely, we are on our own. They are told to start businesses, yet no grants are availed as capital. Recently a press conference and presentation ceremony were called where a lady was presented with a R700 check! How infuriating...
Over the years we have faced unlawful evictions because, ‘everything belongs to the king’. Some examples include in Vuvulane, Madonsa and, more recently, a man was evicted by the king’s son, Prince Sicalo, because his land had natural resources. He was harassed and threatened by the army daily. We are left with nothing. I won’t bore you with the details of political prisoners; that story is well-documented. We are in trouble, and everything I have named has been happening in full view of the international community, SADC, the African Union and South Africa. They are all in bed with the oppressor.
Some nations have even chosen to donate weapons to fund this regime that is at war with its own citizens. Taiwan presented the king with three army helicopters, which were used during the most recent massacre. The army commander in one interview is quoted praising the capabilities of the helicopters. Now the question is, why does the Swazi government need army helicopters, when we are not at war with anyone?
If you have not skipped a sentence, by now you can tell how painful and depressing it is to live in our country. Three members of parliament, namely Mduduzi Simelane, Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, decided to finally raise our concerns inside the legislative chambers. They were ignored and arrogantly told by the then acting Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, to bring proof that the reforms they wanted were requested by the masses, and not just by themselves. Subsequently, members of the public chose to submit petitions, which would serve as proof of their desire for change, to all 55 elected members of parliament as a matter of urgency. Whilst submitting the petitions, the following matters were highlighted:
•They wanted an elected Prime Minister with full executive power,
•They wanted an end to police brutality,
•Unemployment needed to be addressed, and
•Suspension of 1.6 billion rands worth of a loan to build a new parliament we do not need as a nation.
And lo and behold, a young man named Thabani Nkomonye was brutally killed by the police and they tried to cover it up. The regime’s police force released a Missing Person poster asking for public assistance, fully knowing that he had been killed by two Sigodvweni policemen. That incident sparked nationwide protests, bringing the country to a standstill. At the forefront of these protests were the three MPs. During the deceased young man’s memorial service, the police continued to brutalise protesters, injuring many and using excessive force and tear-gas to disperse mourners in attendance. Statements were released by the appointed senators saying we are the barking youth; we are useless, and we will never achieve our demands.
Upon the continuing and widespread delivery of petitions to the various tinkhundla, acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku suspended their delivery, citing the corona virus. He announced restrictions and he was supported by the king’s brother, Prince Simelane, who said they will fight fire with fire. On the issue of armed forces, the prince made a submission inside the senate chambers emphasising the role and expectations of the army; before the protests escalated and turned violent. He made it clear that if ever we as protesters eventually get the political reforms, the army would have failed. The royal household would hold the army accountable should that happen. In our country, the army has one job, which is to protect the king and his heirs to the throne. The national police commissioner William Dlamini also declared war on citizens who called for political reforms. He was not lying, and backed his words with violent action.
On the 26th of June, when citizens tried to submit their petition at the Siphofaneni constituency, they were met with guns, rubber bullets and teargas. Some were badly injured, including many who were not part of the protest. From that day forward the citizens decided to disrupt the economic activities of the country. That is when some trucks were burnt and looted.
Those activities escalated until Themba Masuku revised some restrictions, closing schools and announcing a 5:00 am to 6:00 pm curfew. Some members of the royal family mocked the protesters, which added fuel to the fire. The protesters then targeted the king’s businesses. That is when the army was deployed to escort his trucks, and to protect his hotels and royal residences.
They were given a shoot-to-kill order, and were armed to the teeth. They terrorised unarmed citizens using live rounds of ammunition, and to contain awareness of what was happening, all telecommunications companies were ordered to shut down the internet. We were only given an hour/day internet access. The armed forces then unleashed every type of human right violation you can think of. People were burnt alive; others were told to remove burning tires with their bare hands.
No one was spared; not even nurses, women and children who were not part of the protests. More than 200 people were badly injured and 72 lost their lives in 3 days. A US embassy car was fired upon and searched by soldiers, which prompted the deployment of U.S. marines in the country. Some journalists from New Frame were captured, kidnapped and tortured, for the sin of interviewing victims and some families burying their loved ones.
Press Freedom And Coverage
Whilst we were being butchered, press coverage was suppressed. Some South African media houses raised the alarm about what was happening in the country. However, they were not given accreditation, and that takes at least three weeks to be issued, to film and show the world what was happening. They were heavily reliant on the information we provided using the #kungahlwakwenile, #eswatiniprotest, #eswatinilivesmatter and #eswatiniisbleeding hash-tags on all social media platforms.
Newzroom Afrika journalist Mweli Masilela experienced this when he was told during live filming that he should cut his broadcast. We were heavily helped by the runaway journalist in exile, Zweli Martin Dlamini, who tirelessly raised awareness. Some prominent figures and celebrities in South Africa, like Phumzile van Damme, Andile Ncube and many more, also raised awareness. The state tried to control all information getting out of Swaziland. CNN and BBC journalists were not allowed to get into the country. The government then used state coffers to spread as much propaganda as they could, even booking interviews with international media houses.
State Sponsored Propaganda
The evil regime relies heavily on misinformation to gain international backing. After killing our brothers and sisters, some cabinet ministers went around spreading misinformation on various interviews. Because lies have short legs, they were caught right in the act. They tried to shamelessly change the narrative, even though the massacres had been caught on camera.
Firstly, Themba Masuku in one press statement said the internet had been shut down because we as protesters had damaged some telecoms infrastructure. This was disputed by all companies, especially the MTN Group; after being sued. They all confirmed that the internet blackout had been initiated by orders received from government officials. The courts ruled the act unconstitutional, and issued an order to restore the internet. The government then began to restrict all social media sites, which people bypassed through VPNs. This was done to try and control the narrative.
Secondly, princess Sikhanyiso Dlamini tried to cover her father’s tracks by coming up with a non-existent narrative, which some ministers then also adopted. She insinuated that all the causalities had been caused by foreign mercenaries who had invaded the country seeking to overthrow the ruling government. That lie was also paraded by the king’s ice-boy ministers, Manqoba Khumalo and Neil Rijkenberg. What came as a surprise is that we have video evidence showing police and soldiers using government cars, wearing their usual uniforms, shooting at protesters. Some of those armed forces bragged about it and are known to us as community members.
Initially the government refuted that the unrest had led to any causalities, until Themba Masuku confirmed the allegations. He stated a lower figure, saying only 27 people had lost their lives. Their names were also not given out. In the government-sponsored Times of Swaziland’s Sunday Times (18/07/21), the numbers were given as 43. That would have been believed, if not for Amnesty International, which on Twitter gave the number at more than 70. Because the state used lies to cover its tracks, they quickly changed the narrative and blamed the EFF in South Africa for sponsoring the unrest.
Several government officials went on record saying that the EFF gave Swazis guns to kill armed forces. Now one wonders how protesters with guns ended up not using them, even when the police were killing them ruthlessly. The EFF disputed those allegations, together with local civil society leaders and the three pro-democracy MPs.
Now coming back to my tittle of choice. The leaders of certain countries, especially those in the SADC region, only condemned the damage caused by protesters. What came as a disappointment is that SADC, through their chairperson, His Excellency Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, sent some Troika members on a fact-finding mission liaising with the oppressive regime (05/07/21). They made a promise of meeting all civil leaders and all stakeholders before leaving the country. Nevertheless, that did not happen. Instead, they met a team comprising of the king’s son, Sicalo as a Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, his brother Lonkhokhela as a Minister of Defence, the king’s sister Minister Pholile Shakhanthu, the king’s brother-in-law Reverend Kasaro, and the acting Prime Minister’s son (who is a lawyer) representing the Law Society. If not for our protest leaders, who had the guts of gate-crashing the meeting at the last minute, they would have gotten away with this lopsided deceit.
The SADC delegation made a vow to come back into the country for a second time. The trust the nation had in SADC as a mediating body vanished into thin air. How can you trust a delegation with a minister from the ruling party in Zimbabwe, famous for its human right violations?
On the other hand, the USA together with the European Union supported the circus known as Sibaya, which was held on (16/07/21) and is regarded as a form of dialogue. This is the last resort famously used by the regime to evade accountability. They strategically select speakers who will support the king, avoiding any opposing views. In some instances, the king is the only one delivering a speech, then the meeting is adjourned; as was the case during the recent Sibaya.
As citizens we lost all the hope that the tyrant will answer for his crimes after the Sibaya meeting. This is because he made it clear that the SADC delegates will not change anything. He said they were here to simply gather facts and present their findings to him; in the form of recommendations to avoid similar incidents.
Our push now is to document all the casualties of the recent massacres of civilians, and I must say the numbers are increasing. On the 18th of July we witnessed another gruesome incident of police brutality, which claimed two innocent lives, when two men were gunned down by an off-duty police officer. The root cause is alleged to have been their difference of opinion during a discussion on politics.
The victims were totally against the autocratic rule of the mad king. The cycle of police brutality seems to be never-ending, as perpetrated by those in charge. The Swazi News investigative editor on his Facebook account confirmed all forces did get a shoot-to-kill directive during the recent protests. He even provided a WhatsApp screenshot.
One thing is for sure, the armed forces are out to silence all opposition through the barrel of the gun, and therefore our resolve is clear. Backing down now is not an option. The love we have for this country gives us energy to continue fighting for change even though we know our days are numbered. Even as I write this passage, I have accepted that fate may choose me as the next victim during protests, and when that glorious day comes, I will gladly face the barrel and transition into the next life with my boots on. The tyrant will not prevail. As we continue fixing this country, the input of international media may push your leaders to hold Mswati accountable for the atrocities he is inflicting on unarmed citizens. Right now, Eswatini is bleeding and the world is watching.