24 killed and over 70 injured amid crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Swaziland

In spite of the militarized crackdown, people across urban and rural Swaziland are taking to the streets against Africa’s last absolute monarch. The Communist Party calls for sustained uprising on a country-wide scale in order to “exhaust the army and police.”

July 01, 2021 by Pavan Kulkarni
People across Swaziland have been mobilizing for weeks to demand the end of the monarchy and the democratization of the country.

At least 24 people were killed in Swaziland on June 29 and 30 amid a brutal crackdown by the army of King Mswati III on pro-democracy protesters who are challenging the rule of Africa’s last absolute monarch. Mswati reportedly fled the country on the night of June 28 amid the intensification of protests.

The death toll from the repression is likely to rise as many of the injured are in a critical state. Further, the number of deaths may themselves be undercounted because of the lack of access to information due to the internet shutdown. Under its cover, violence by security forces is continuing. Reports state that security forces have carried out numerous attacks after barging into people’s homes.

By the morning of Wednesday, June 30, over 50 people were admitted with gunshot wounds to the government hospital in the capital Mbabane. Five of those admitted were declared dead. Another five succumbed to their wounds in the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital in Manzini city, the economic hub of the country. In a health center in Nhlangano, in the southern region of the country, another 20 victims who were shot at with live ammunition were admitted, one of whom died.

On the afternoon of June 30, in the small town of Simunye in Swaziland’s eastern region, around a thousand residents from Simunye and neighboring villages held a demonstration that was also fired on by security forces. Several participants were also arrested.

“About 500 protesters who had regrouped after the attack, marched to the Simunye police station demanding their release. The police fired live bullets on them just outside the station. A large number of them are seriously injured,” Pius Vilakati, the international organizer of the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) told Peoples Dispatch.

Vilakati is based in South Africa, where he was forced into exile in 2011 when he was the president of Student Representative Council of the University of Swaziland. He is receiving regular updates via phone from his party cadres in Swaziland, who have been organizing their local communities to revolt against the monarchy.

According to Vilakati, in their zeal to enforce the curfew, the police also opened fire on children and killed a 14-year-old in the town of Matsapha on June 30. The town is the largest industrial center of the country, which on June 28 saw the beginning of Kungahlwa Kwenile.

As a part of this campaign to destroy the properties and businesses of the king who owns much of Swaziland’s economy with no accountability to the parliament or the public, youth of Matsapha torched supermarkets, trucks etc. The pro-democracy movement escalated their tactics after police violently cracked down on the peaceful marches nationwide by residents to deliver petitions of demands to the offices of their respective members of the parliament.

Two-thirds of the members of the upper house of this parliament and over 10% of the lower house members are directly appointed by the king. Only those approved by the chiefs, who administer their respective chiefdoms at the king’s behest, can contest for elections for the remaining seats – as individuals, and not as representatives of any political parties, which have been banned in the country since 1973. The king also has the power to dissolve the parliament when he wants.

Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mduduzi Simelane, two vocally pro-democracy MPs, are reportedly underground and have been hiding from the police after the king ordered their arrest. The police reportedly refused to carry out the order, whereupon the army was instructed to execute the task.

‘Monarch has no role to play in the future of the people of Swaziland’: CPS

Within hours after his properties in Matsapha were attacked on the evening of June 28, King Mswati is reported to have fled the country in his private plane and instructed the army to put down this uprising. The central demand of the people on the streets is for the democratization of the country’s economy and polity – with the right to elect a Prime Minister who is currently appointed by the king, along with other ministers.

Read more: King Msawati may have fled Swaziland, but the pro-democracy struggle against monarchy is far from over

Despite the army deployment, Kungahlwa Kwenile has continued in Matsapha, located in the Manzini region of central Swaziland. The Swaziland Breweries, which is partly owned by the king and also located in Matsapha, was torched on the evening of June 29. “We know from eyewitnesses the army has shot a large number of protesters dead and dumped their bodies in the fires at the brewery to cover up the killings,” Vilakati said.

Similar attacks on king’s properties, demonstrations and violence by the security forces have been reported in towns across the four regions of the country. In Mphuleni township, about 20 minutes drive from Matsapha, two women in their early 20s were killed on June 30, he said. Two others were shot dead in the neighboring Mahlapathini.

The total number of injured across Swaziland remains unconfirmed. Several hospitals in the country are burdened with casualties. With its grossly underfunded healthcare system suffering from severe shortages of medicines, basic equipment and personnel well before the onset of the pandemic, many of the critically injured may not get the care they need.

Nevertheless, people across the country – in urban and rural Swaziland – are taking to the streets, “especially after sunset when it is easier to evade the armed forces”, he said. It is now vital to sustain the uprising at a country-wide scale in order to “exhaust the army and police. Then the first phase of the struggle against the monarchy would be complete.”

Swaziland News, a web portal based in South Africa, has quoted soldiers sympathetic to the protest movement as saying that the fuel and ammunition reserve of the army will be exhausted within weeks if a nation-wide uprising is sustained.

This leaves many to wonder what will happen until this point, given the escalation in violence against protesters. However, young people across Swaziland are willing to risk injuries and even death in order to take down the monarchy and establish democracy in their country. Amid this intensified struggle, the CPS has called for “international working-class solidarity with the people of Swaziland in their fight for freedom.”

The shack dwellers movement of South Africa, Abahlali baseMjondolo, released a statement on June 30 expressing “undying solidarity with the people of Swaziland who are currently facing the repression of the absolute monarchy head on.” They condemned the army deployment and repression of protesters to “protect the power and business interests of the king,” and criticized their own government for its ties to the government of Swaziland. “The comrades on the streets in Swaziland have our full solidarity and we are ready to support them in whatever way is deemed necessary. It is time to end the dictatorship of Mswati III,” they stated, echoing the sentiments of those mobilized on the streets of Swaziland.

The CPS wrote that “The monarchy must be uprooted and dumped into the dustbin of history! It has no role to play in the future of the people of Swaziland.”