Johannesburg – Southern African countries have deployed envoys to Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, to try to stem the unrest that saw one person killed and at least 80 people wounded by security forces in the latest wave of pro-democracy protests.
The demonstrations in the kingdom have flared up recently, months after authorities loyal to the country’s absolute monarch quashed an earlier round of demonstrations.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who currently chairs the security organ of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), ordered high-level envoys to fly to Eswatini on Wednesday to meet King Mswati III to discuss “security and political developments”.
The delegation includes Jeffrey Radebe, a former South African government minister and Candith Mashego-Dlamini, South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations and cooperation, as well as representatives from Botswana and Namibia. The envoys will be accompanied by SADC Executive Secretary Elias Magosi and other senior SADC officials.
Ramaphosa spoke with the king by telephone as the violence escalated, Pretoria’s high commission said in a statement.
Gunfire was heard into the night on Wednesday in the Eswatini capital Mbabane, and the civil servants’ union NAPSAWU said at least one man had been shot dead earlier in the day. “The army and the police killed one person at about 3pm (13:00 GMT) today,” Oscar Nkambule, the president of the union, told the AFP news agency.
Fifty of its members were taken to hospital in Mbabane, with another 30 admitted to hospital in the city of Manzini, including some with gunshot wounds, he added.
Hundreds of soldiers and police began fanning through both cities early in the day, firing tear gas at even small gatherings of people and unleashing volleys of rubber-coated bullets, AFP reported.
The kingdom again shut down the internet as images of the violence began circulating on social media. On Thursday, mobile operators were told to suspend access to Facebook and its messenger app until further notice.
“The business has implemented the directive and access to Facebook and Facebook Messenger has been suspended,” the Eswatini unit of MTN Group said in a statement. “We will continue engaging with the relevant stakeholders to minimise the impact and duration of the service disruption,” it added, without saying why it had been told to suspend access to the social media giant.