Maseru – The eSwatini government “is highly concerned” by violent disturbances in the kingdom in recent days, Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku has said.
His statement came as the African Union Commission and the South African government and ruling ANC raised concerns about developments in the country.
Protestors have been calling for King Mswati III (53) to radically trim his powers and usher in democracy in Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Reports indicate protestors have been and burning property, and law enforcement agents have responded with force.
Acting PM Masuku on Thursday evening said while the government advocated for constitutional freedoms and human rights, “we cannot condone the attacks on people and their property”.
He said the protests were in violation of COVID-19 regulations which restrict the size of gatherings, were in breach of a curfew, and had degenerated into criminality.
“The current riots are also in violation of the COVID-19 regulations that are in place to save lives, against the deadly virus. The riots have degenerated into criminality and are infringing on many basic and social rights of emaSwati, including but not limited to food security, safety, health care and business.
“The damage to property that has occurred does not only affect livelihoods but also further puts the Kingdom’s efforts to mitigate and minimise the economic challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in jeopardy. The property and infrastructure that has been destroyed is the bedrock of any thriving and sustainable economy. We continue to appeal for people to refrain from looting and damaging infrastructure,” Acting PM Masuku said.
He went on: “We continue not to tolerate (sic) the looting, arson, violence, and all other forms of criminality that are currently being directed at businesses and people’s property.”
While confirming that the army had been called in to help restore order, he said “there has been no marshal law that has been declared, as reported”. He also said claims of deaths of civilians during the protests were yet to be confirmed.
“The office of the Prime Minister is yet to receive an official report about alleged deaths due to the riots and we will investigate these allegations. We also ask emaSwati not to take the law into their own hands, as this can lead to further escalation.
“The public and the media are also urged to be wary of unverified and inaccurate information, as this is fueled by forces that are determined to push their agenda by all means necessary. The government will give regular updates,” Pm Masuku said.
AU Commission Chairperson Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat called for steps to protect lives and property in the kingdom.
In a statement on Thursday, Mr Faki urged leaders in eSwatini and other stakeholders to refrain from violence and encouraged constructive dialogue.
The South African government also raised concerns over reports of “loss of life and destruction of properties”.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation said in a statement on Thursday that, “The South African government calls on the security forces to exercise total restraint and protect the lives and property of people, in keeping with the country’s constitutional provisions and laws.”
The department also urged civil society and political actors to “engage in meaningful dialogue in order to resolve the current political challenges”.
The ANC echoed activists’ demands for multiparty democracy, calling on the eSwatini government to unban opposition political parties, release activists and engage with citizens.
“The use of security forces to quell political dissent and the failure to address legitimate civilian concerns complicates the conflict and adds fuel the to the fire,” South Africa’s governing party said in a statement.
An unconfirmed number of people have been killed in the violence. Different activist groups said between eight and 15 people were killed in clashes with the police and army, and nearly 30 were critically injured.