At least eight people were killed on Wednesday as police cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in Eswatini, activist lobbies tracking unrest in the country say.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) and the Swaziland Youth Congress (Swayoco), which have been pushing for political freedoms in the monarchy, said Wednesday that several people had been shot dead by security forces deployed to quell the protests.
Reports say the protests started peacefully in the Manzini region of Africa’s last absolute monarchy on June 20 when youth took to the streets demanding the right to democratically elect the prime minister.
Under the current system, King Mswati III picks the premier of his choice.
“We can confirm there are eight people that were shot dead. They were shot by the army. 28 people were seriously injured and some of them are said to be in and out of theatre,” Lucky Lukhele told Nation.Africa.
Eswatini officials did not immediately comment on the casualty situation, but Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku had asked people to stay away from gatherings on Tuesday, citing Covid-19 measures. He said the police will be deployed to ensure restrictions are followed.
Protesters, however, see the new restrictions as a measure to counter protests under the guise of fighting the pandemic.
Swayoco said they would continue with the protests “in honour of our fallen patriots we will soldier on until democracy”.
Acting PM Masuku on Tuesday announced a 6pm to 5am curfew which he said was meant to minimise unnecessary movement to ensure the safety and security of eSwatini’s people. He also ordered the internet service providers to shut down the service.
“This is a conscious decision to maintain the rule of law and de-escalate tension that had turned this exercise into violence and disorder,” he said.
Footage of soldiers beating up civilians has been circulating on social media.
Meanwhile, protesters torched a building belonging to Eswatini Beverages, which King Mswati partly owns.
The protests took a violent turn after Mr Masuku issued an order last week suspending the delivery of petitions from citizens, saying this had created “a breeding ground for anarchy and has been intentionally hijacked to sow seeds of division”.
The Eswatini government also dismissed reports that King Mswati III had fled to South Africa in the wake of protests.
SSN has expressed concern at South Africa’s continued silence amid the chaos from the neighbouring country.
Despite South African companies dominating the Eswatini's economy, so far there is no word from President Cyril Ramaphosa since the protests began.
“For South Africa, it is simple as an immediate neighbour to get together with Mozambique on behalf of the African Union and SADC,” SSN spokesperson Lucky Lukhele told Nation.Africa.