Mbabane: The tension throughout the country of Eswatini is now palpable as pro-democracy and pro-monarchy elements square off against each other.
At the centre of the conflict is the start of the trial of the two incarcerated Members of Parliament, Hosea’s Mduduzi “Bacede” Mabuza and Ngwempisi’s Mthandeni Dube. The two were arrested on July 25, 2021, and were charged with contravening the Suppression of Terrorism Act. Mabuza also faces an additional charge of allegedly breaching the Covid 19 rules.
Also linked to these two arrests is the involvement of their colleague, Siphofaneni Member of Parliament (MP) Mduduzi “Gawuzela” Simelane who is also wanted for the same charges. Simelane however, has been able to evade arrest and as such has been labeled as a fugitive from the law.
Throngs of workers from all walks of life have assembled at the High Court to give support to the two MP’s. Many have been bused in from far-flung corners of Eswatini. The security around the court is extremely tight as police officers have been deployed in large numbers to control the crowds and to maintain law and order.
As the trial of the two MP’s starts today, the country has been divided right down the middle as pro-democracy elements have demanded that the two parliamentarians be released. They are perceived to have been unfairly arrested. Meanwhile, pro-monarchy elements believe that the utterances by the two parliamentarians’ in which they demanded that the constitution be amended so that the Prime Minister be elected by the people and not appointed by the monarch was tantamount to treason. It was seen as a threat to the country’s security and to the institution of the monarchy. Pro-Monarchists are of the view that the MP’s utterances were incited full and they are the reason behind the violent protest actions that have engulfed the country since June 2021.
The protests and civil unrest have affected all segments of society to the extent that the key education and public transport sectors have come to a standstill. Learners and public transport operators have engaged in separate protests whose key demands are that the two MP’s should be released from custody.
A decision was then taken by the government to close all schools in order to control the chaotic destruction that was being caused by the learners. In the meantime transport operators intensified their strike causing mayhem as commuters were left stranded. The members of the transport sector then systematically strangled the economy as people could not reach their places of work.
In an attempt to resolve the crisis, three government ministers were deployed by the cabinet to meet with the transport operators to engage in negotiations. During intense discussions on Monday which lasted four hours, both parties reached a standoff. The demands that the transport operators presented to the cabinet representatives were not accepted and because of this transport operators refused to bring an end to the strike. They have now resolved to attend the trial of the parliamentarians in their numbers, because of this, there will be no public transport on the roads at all.
Judge Mumsy Dlamini is expected to preside over the trial as she has done twice before during the MP’s bail applications in which she denied them bail. Further charges have since been preferred against the MP’s. These are charges of murder and causing hatred against King Mswati III. The additional charges arise from an incident in which two people died after they were struck down by a hijacked motor vehicle during the June unrests. The prosecution alleges that the people who blocked the roads that led to the hijacking were people incited into doing the act by the MP’s.
Today’s protest action by the public transport operators was meant to coincide with a march by the Public Sector Associations (PSA). They had intended to march from the Coronation Park to the Ministry of Public Service to deliver a petition. The march however has been banned by the National Commissioner of Police, William Dlamini. In a statement, Dlamini said the march has been prohibited in the interest of national security, public order, and safety.
According to the Commissioner “the notice of prohibition has already been communicated to the conveners’ for their information and compliance, together with constituencies and other allies. To this end, there is no march expected to be staged by the PSA’s, and the police will be all out to ensure that the prohibition order is enforced.”
The stage, therefore, is set for a clash between the law enforcement agencies and the protesting civilians.