PRO-DEMOCRACY AND ANTI-POLICE BRUTALITY PROTESTS
How we got here
The human rights situation has deteriorated sharply in Eswatini. The Eswatini government continues to
ignore the constitutional provisions on human rights and use law enforcement and legal instruments to
crush calls for justice and democratic reform. What started as a call for an end to police brutality has
turned into full-fledged dissent, with repeated calls for political and human rights centred reform.
2021 in Eswatini
8-9 May: Mysterious death of 25 year old law student Thabani Nkomonye.
May-June: Peaceful nation-wide petitions to various local constituencies calling for an end to police brutality.
25 June: Acting Prime Minister issues decree banning all protests and delivery of petitions. Heavy crackdown on dissent begins by state security forces using excessive force. Over 70 peaceful protestors were allegedly killed in the days that followed.
29 June: Internet Shutdown.
4 July: Regional actor (Southern Africa Development Community) arrives in Eswatini to scope ongoing unrest.
16 July: Sibaya (traditional dialogue) held at Ludzidzini Royal residence by King Mswati III where he announced new Prime Minister, Cleopas Dlamini
25 July: Two Members of Parliament, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were arrested and detained at Mbabane police station under frivolous charges including the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
1 October: Over 10,000 peaceful protestors march to US Embassy appealing for support. One protestor shot.
15 October: Internet shutdown.
18 October: Nationwide protests met with disproportionate force. Death toll rises to over 80.
“My son’s tragic death is not in vain”
One of life’s most painful tragedies is for any parent to bury their child. Worse when they lose the child under mysterious circumstances of alleged use of excessive force by the police and other human rights abuses. Siphiwe Mkhabela, who lost her son Thabani Nkomonye says the loss was not in vain. Thabani’s death highlighted how lightly human lives are treated by the authorities in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
Thabanis’ death, under questionable circumstances allegedly at the hands of the royal Eswatini police has sparked a wave of protests led by youth, academics, civil society and various stakeholders in Eswatini campaigning on what they see as the democratic and governance deficiencies in the country. His wrecked car was found at an accident scene in Nhlambeni, outside Manzini, a few meters away from his family home over the weekend of May 8 2021. Eswatini police gave conflicting versions on what might have happened.
A week later, on May 14, following a search by the family, Thabani’s body was discovered a few meters away from where the car allegedly veered off the road. Following pressure from human rights groups, King Mswati III’s government instituted a commission of inquiry led by a senior magistrate. To date, the enquiry has gone cold. The wheels of justice for Thabani’s family have stalled.
“If his [Thabani] death leads to a change in how human rights are viewed in the country, I will feel that my child was perhaps a necessary and worthy martyr,” Siphiwe says.
“I cannot give up now”
The current regime continues to crush dissent and deny civil, political, economic and social rights to the population of 1,3 million emaSwati. Human rights defenders, activists and protestors have been met with excessive use of force. Many protesters exercising their human rights to the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and bystanders, have been seriously injured as a result of the use of disproportionate and lethal force by the security forces.
Madzabudzabu Kunene’s leg had to be amputated after police shot him during protests on July 2, 2021.
“I was part of the protestors who had peacefully assembled on the road towards the industrial sites in Mbabane. When I saw them [police], I did not see the need to flee as I was hoping they were headed for the larger group of people who were assembled at a nearby bridge,” Kunene said.
“But when they were close to where I was, they came straight for me. I started to move away. I am sure I did not walk 60 metres from where I had been standing, when the police officer shot me at close range.”Madzabudzabu Kunene
“Despite the immeasurable emotional and physical pain, I cannot give up now until of the people are free and lead a better life.”
“Wrong place, wrong time”
On Tuesday June 29, 2021 just after 5pm, 28-year-old Ndumiso Dvuba was shot in a drive by shooting by a group of riot police officers in a fast-moving vehicle as he was walking home after a long day at work. He was not part of the protests and as he puts it, he was at the “wrong place, at the wrong time”.
The bullet was fired by police officers from the Operational Support Services Unit (OSSU) and pierced his stomach, lodging itself in his back, narrowly missing Ndumiso’s spinal cord. It was not until the following morning that Ndumiso was taken to the hospital due to the curfew imposed. After he was shot, passers-by carried him to a homestead near the road, where he lay overnight in agony, weak and in need of urgent medical attention. He was bleeding profusely and prayed silently for a miracle.
These gruesome scenes played themselves out in the Kingdom of Eswatini, during a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests calling for political reforms and an end to police brutality.
From 28 June to 4 July, Eswatini erupted into violence with scenes of burning buildings, helicopters flying over residential areas and the sound of bullets throughout the days and nights.
“The saddest part is that my life has been turned upside down. I am no longer able to function and fend for myself as I used to do. Now I rely on family members to carry me around and help me. I am shattered.”
“I cannot sleep at night, the
pain is unbearable”
In what turned out to be the most explosive civil unrest in the 53 years of independence in Eswatini, to date over 80 people, including women and children, have lost their lives due to excessive use of force by state security forces. Sihle Ndlovu* was shot in the arm by the royal eSwatini police shattering her left shoulder.
“When I heard the commotion and chanting of political songs by the protestors, I noticed that my daughter was not in the house and I got extremely worried for her safety. I was told she had joined the other children from our compound to see what was going on in the picket lines. Without hesitation, I rushed out to fetch her, found her and took her by the hand so we could head home”, said Sihle.
“Suddenly, a group of armed police pounced on the crowds. We were making our way home when I felt a sharp excruciating pain on my left shoulder. I had been shot and I fell on the ground.”Sihle Ndlovu*
Sihle spent two weeks in hospital, where the doctors told her that her left shoulder was shattered and her hand would no longer function as she is permanently disabled.
“I cannot sleep at night. The pain is unbearable,Sihle Ndlovu*
What she says pains her the most is that she was not even part of the ongoing protests but was still injured whilst out to protect her daughter and to ensure her safety. Over 200 people have been hospitalized following excessive use of force by state security forces in Eswatini following the June / July protests.
Sihle Ndlovu* not her real name
TWO MEMBERS OF ESWATINI PARLIAMENT DETAINED
On 25 July 2021, Members of Eswatini Parliament Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were detained amid a wave of pro-democracy protests and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act as well as other trumped-up charges. They have been in arbitrary detention at Mbabane police station ever since.
Since their arrest in July 2021, peaceful protests and demonstrations have emerged nationwide calling for their unconditional release by a range of stakeholders. On 1 October 2021, the largest demonstration took place where over 10,000 EmaSwati citizens marched to the US Embassy to deliver a petition appealing to the US for support in advocating for the MPs’ release and questioning the independence of the judiciary in offering a fair trial. According to witness reports, they were violently dispersed by the authorities, with security agents using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. The army was also deployed with soldiers seen setting up roadblocks to stop people from joining the protests. A protestor was left in critical condition in hospital after being shot in the head by Eswatini security forces.
TWO MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT DETAINED
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