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 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 labelled as a fugitive from the law.
Throngs of workers from all walks of life assemble at the High Court to give support to the two MP’s. Many are bused in from all corners of Eswatini. The security around the court is always extremely tight as police officers are deployed in large numbers to control the crowds and to maintain law and order.
The trial of the two MP’s has divided the country 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 has been 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 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 resolved to attend the trial of the parliamentarians in their numbers and because of this, there was no public transport on the roads at all.
Judge Mumsy Dlamini presided over the trial as she had done twice before during the MP’s bail applications in which she denied them bail. Further charges were 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.
The 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 was banned by the National Commissioner of Police, William Dlamini. In a statement, Dlamini said the march was prohibited in the interest of national security, public order, and safety.
According to the Commissioner “the notice of prohibition was 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.”
Representatives of the PSA were adamant however that the march would continue and they communicated that narrative to their constituency countrywide. The PSA comprises of National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SWADNU), Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP), and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT).
The stage, therefore, was set for a clash between the law enforcement agencies and the protesting civilians. What followed was one of the most brutal suppressions of public protests by security forces in the history of the country. One of the most chilling scenes occurred as members of the PSA were being bused from Piggs Peak in order to participate in their march when they encountered a roadblock near the Nkoyoyo royal residence just outside Mbabane.
The roadblock was manned predominantly by security personnel from the Operational Support Service Unit (OSSU). Witnesses report that the bus filled with civil servants mostly teachers and nurses was stopped and thereafter the security forces threw tear gas canisters inside. The civil servants inside the bus then scrambled to get out but the doors of the vehicle were shot by the police. In desperation, the passengers then attempted to escape through the emergency exit window. It is at this point that many of them were then shot by the police. The use of force was clearly disproportionate on the unarmed protestors.
It is incidences such as this that prompted the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who is also the Chairperson of the Southern Africa Development Community’s (SADC) Organ on defense, politics, and security to appoint three special envoys to come and assess the situation in the country. The three South African officials were joined by the SADC Executive Secretary and officials of the SADC Secretariat including representatives from Botswana and Namibia.
The delegation led by the former South African Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe met with the King and also with Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini, the Peoples United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), members of Parliament, diplomats, trade unions, and other political and civil society groups.
Thereafter Ramaphosa announced that “all the stakeholders have agreed that a national dialogue should be the appropriate platform to address the ongoing challenges facing the country. King Mswati has accepted the need for a national dialogue, and therefore I appeal for calm, restraint, the respect for the rule of law and human rights on all sides to enable the process to commence.”
However, as King Mswati prepares to go into seclusion. He informed the SADC Special envoy, Jeff Radebe that he will only be able to address the matter adequately next year after the Incwala ceremony.
Clearly, this did not sit well with the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa. He needed to move very quickly and seek an audience with the Monarch before he was no longer accessible to the public. At the very first instance after the South African Local Government elections, Ramaphosa jetted into the country personally. President Ramaphosa arrived in his capacity as Chair of the SADC Organ Troika on Politics, Defence Security and discussed a broad range of matters relating to the political and security situation in the Kingdom with King Mswati.
The two leaders agreed that The SADC Secretariat and the Government of Eswatini will embark on a process of drafting terms of reference for the national dialogue. These terms of reference will specify the processes for the forum as well as the composition of the forum. The Chairperson of the SADC Organ Troika emphasized that the preparatory process will take place during the coming three months, a period during which His Majesty will undertake his annual mandatory Incwala ceremony.
As he goes to the Incwala ceremony he leaves behind a country that is completely unsettled. Members of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum have vowed to continue with their protest action well into the festive season. Schools remain closed with learners languishing at their homes while important external examinations loom on the horizon. Public Transport Operators are back on the road but remain disgruntled as not even a single one of their demands are been completely attended to.
Discussion about this post