Military and police patrols are on the streets of the tiny African nation of eSwatini, and opposition leaders are in hiding, they told CNN Tuesday, as the continent’s last absolute monarchy tries to contain pro-democracy protests.
The president of the opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), Mlungisi Makhanya, told CNN on Tuesday that he had witnessed military and police patrols on the ground.
“The army was brought in to help protect and preserve,” said Sen. Manqoba Khumalo, eSwatini’s Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry.
But the acting eSwatini President of the Economic Freedom Fighters accused the military of having a more sinister purpose.
“For now we are on the run after soldiers were sent to kill political party leaders,” activist Nombulelo Dlamini, told CNN.
The president of the National Union of Students (SNUS) is also in hiding, he told CNN.
“All we want is dialogue. We don’t promote violence. The government should engage its people,” said SNUS president, Colani Maseko.
Tensions continue to mount despite an urgent mission dispatched to the kingdom by the president of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, including the foreign ministers of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The South African Development Community mission called for national dialogue and appealed for calm, Masisi said in a statement Tuesday.
‘Full-frontal assault on human rights’
Last week Amnesty International warned that eSwatini’s government had launched a “full-frontal assault on human rights.”
“Dozens of people have been killed for daring to demand that their government respects human rights, many of them human rights defenders and activists,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty’s director for East and Southern Africa.
With a population of only 1.16 million, the kingdom formerly known as Swaziland is an absolute monarchy ruled by King Mswati III. He holds complete authority and is consulted on all matters that pertain to the running of the state.
Members of parliament and opposition party leaders are calling for changes to the constitution to allow for democratic elections and to remove the King from the parliamentary process.
“We want freedom where the king cannot interfere with anything in parliament,” said lawmaker Mabuza Bacede. “We cannot convene in parliament without the king, yet the king is not in parliament. If you pass a motion, that motion must be approved by him alone.”
Commerce Minister Khumalo said the King agrees that if the majority of the people of eSwatini want to effect constitutional change they will be respected. But, he said, this “has to be done through national dialogue and reform.”
SADC representatives will return to the country on a second mission to facilitate further peace talks with stakeholders on the ground, the regional body said in its statement Tuesday. No date has yet been confirmed.