Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, has deployed soldiers to major cities and towns to crack down on protests, pro-democracy activists and witnesses said Tuesday.
Protests are rare in Eswatini, a small landlocked state commonly known as Swaziland. Political parties are banned, but recent weeks have seen violent anti-monarchy demonstrations erupting in parts of the country.
Witnesses in the capital Manzini and Mbabane reported seeing soldiers patrolling the streets where protesters have been burning tyres and stoning cars.
A Manzini resident told AFP she and colleagues were holed up in the restaurant where they worked and were unable to return home.
“Helicopters are extinguishing the fires lit on the roads,” she said, asking not be named.
People had been looting a furniture store and on Monday some shops were burned down, she said.
Shops were ransacked and torched overnight in Matsapha, an industrial hub on the western edge of Manzini, according to several sources.
“The military is on the streets,” Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the pro-democracy grouping Swaziland Solidarity Network, told AFP.
“Yesterday was the worst night ever, where a young man was shot point-blank by the army, and some are in hospital as we speak,” Lukhele charged.
Wandile Dludlu, secretary general of People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), said “(King) Mswati unleashed armed soldiers and police on unarmed civilians yesterday.”
More than 250 protesters have been injured with gun wounds, broken bones and shock, he said.
Prime Minister Temba Masuku issued an appeal for “calm, restraint and peace” and promised the government would “update the nation on interventions on the current situation as the day progresses.”
In his statement, he dismissed media reports that King Mswati III had fled as “false.”
He is “in the country and continues to lead,” the premier said.
The government last week banned protests, with national police commissioner William Dlamini warning that officers would be “zero-tolerant” of breaches of the ban.
The kingdom has traditionally stifled dissent and demonstrations, including by pro-democracy trade unions.
With unrestricted political power over his 1.3 million people and ruling by decree, the king is the only absolute monarch in Africa and one of the few remaining in the world.
Crowned in 1986 when he was just 18, the king has come under fire for his expensive tastes and spending while most inhabitants live below the poverty line.
In 2019, the country was rocked by a series of strikes by civil servants who accused the monarch of draining public coffers at the expense of his subjects. AFP