Forget that Mathunjwa is mourning. She was also trapped.
Her nephew, Sicelo Mathunjwa, 35, was shot in the head on Tuesday night when Eswatini police used gunshots to disperse the crowd in Matsapha, a small industrial center about 35 kilometers (21 miles) from the capital Mbabane.
“Sicelo is dead. He died on the spot,” Mathunjwa told Al Jazeera. She said that she could not leave her village of Mazombiswe to the village of Hosea of her nephew about 30 kilometers (18 miles) away. The tension in Silan.
For several days, Eswatini, Africa’s last autocratic monarchy, has been shaken by the largest democratic protests in years. Security forces have fought on the streets with most young demonstrators, ignoring the curfew.
Mathunjwa said that when the police opened fire on the protesters, her nephew, a garment factory worker, was a bystander. The protesters set fire to a building owned by Eswatini Beverages, which was partly owned by King Mswati III.
“He was near the Matsapha brewery that night,” the 59-year-old said in a telephone interview. “My children went to the morgue to identify the dead body, and they saw a hole in the back of his head.”
Activists of the two political movements, the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) and the People’s United Democracy Movement (PUDEMO), told Al Jazeera that at least 40 people were killed during the crackdown.
But in a statement issued on Thursday, the office of Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku stated that “no official report of the alleged death has been received. We will investigate these allegations.”
Call for “Political pluralism, accountability”
Although protests calling for political reforms are rare, they are nothing new in Swaziland.
Tensions in this mountainous kingdom have been brewing for several months. The coronavirus pandemic there has exacerbated social and economic dissatisfaction. Its monarch and his close circle have been criticized for living a prosperous life, and the majority of the country’s population But living in extreme poverty.
The current protests are triggered by a decree issued by the king on June 24, which prohibits citizens from sending petitions to parliamentarians for democratic reforms. Previously, the public strongly protested that the police killed Thabani Nkomonye, a law student, in May.
Matsapha’s businesses were looted and burned by protesters, but the presence of security forces on the streets made citizens vulnerable to the use of force.
“Eswatini continues to have dangerous civil strife, including the use of lethal force by security forces,” the US embassy in the country said in a statement. statement This week, noticed a communication interruption.
At the same time, a strict curfew has emptied the streets, and the airport and public transportation system have also been closed. CPS stated that 13 of its members have been detained.
“We are not surprised by the strong reaction of the regime,” PUDEMO leader Mlungisi Makhanya told Al Jazeera. “We, the people, say we need to open up the constitutional space… let people make their own choices about the way they want to govern,” he said.
He told Al Jazeera: “We need to transition to a new system where there is political pluralism and a leadership that is responsible to the people, not a person who is hard-hearted towards the monarchy.”
Although this small kingdom with a population of 1.2 million supports monarchy, Mahania warned that Mswati’s continued authoritarianism may intensify the call for republic.
Mswati became the regent at the age of 18 and inherited the throne from his father, King Sobza II, who banned party registration in 1973.
On the contrary, the country’s system allows candidates to stand for parliamentary seats alone, leaving no room for political parties to occupy a majority of seats in parliament. The prime minister is appointed by the king who has all executive powers.
The king has not resolved the protests all week-observers say this strategy is in line with the monarchy’s modus operandi when it is in trouble.
“Eswatini’s democratic sentiment is nothing new. Signal Risk senior political and country risk analyst Menzi Ndhlovu said that people have been holding this sentiment for decades, and the monarchy has been able to adopt the stick and carrot mechanism. To get through the difficulties. tell Al Jazeera’s inside story program on Thursday.
“In turbulent situations, the monarchy tends to remain silent until things are in order. Not surprisingly, the king remained silent while his general and his police officers were doing work to calm the people down, and then when things were a little calmer. Sometimes, he may come out to speak.”
Earlier this week, Acting Prime Minister Masuku dispelled speculation that Mswati had left the country. He continued to describe the protests as “disturbing and shocking” and told people to “express their concerns to the government” via email.
He also maintains the deployment of security forces to ensure order.
“The government has strengthened security measures to restore the rule of law, peace, and protect all emaSwati. We will continue to not tolerate robbery, arson, violence and all other forms of crime against businesses and people’s property,” he said on Thursday. Said in.
Call for dialogue
Lawyer and activist Thabani Maseko said the growing dissatisfaction with Mswati’s repression of citizens could turn into a crisis of legitimacy. During his imprisonment for criticizing the judicial system in 2015, Maseko wrote an open letter to former US President Barack Obama, begging him to persuade other world leaders to lobby for constitutional reform.
However, Maseko believes that the only way out of “total chaos” is dialogue.
“We are trying to reach out to all stakeholders in civil society, trade unions, youth groups, businesses and churches to reach a consensus. We are trying to create a platform for negotiations with the government, but it is difficult due to the interruption of communication lines and difficulty in action. ,”He says.
“The only way to end this tension is if the government believes that dialogue is necessary to find a way forward,” he said.
However, for exiled politicians like Kenneth Kunene, the Secretary-General of the CPS, the first condition for dialogue is “the party’s lifting of the ban.”
Unable to return to Eswatini for fear of persecution, Cunene and dozens of members of his party found refuge in neighboring South Africa.
On Thursday, South Africa, a heavyweight in the region, expressed “high concern” about the behavior of the security forces and called on them to “complete restraint and protect the lives and property of the people.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Clayson Monilla said: “We are particularly concerned about reports of casualties and property damage.”
Returning to Mazombiswe, Mathunjwa mourned the loss of his nephew and father of three children.
“His father died a long time ago, and he had to take on this role,” she said. “He is the only boy in my brother’s family, he is the only boy in the homestead, and now his sisters will have to take care of the family,” Mathunjwa added.
“We will remember that he is a caring person and communicator who unites the whole family. This is really painful for us.”