Africa’s last absolute monarch on Saturday called for calm and dialogue in the kingdom of Eswatini following a visit by regional mediators to try resolve a national crisis and deadly unrest.
But opposition political parties and civil society groups, have rejected the call to talks.
Formerly known as Swaziland, the country has been rocked by anti-monarchy demonstrations that broke out in June and have prompted authorities to deploy the army.
The latest flare-up has run for more than two weeks, spearheaded by students, civil servants and transport workers.
At least two people were killed and dozens injured as security forces fired tear gas, live rounds and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.
Themba Ginindza, a senior aide of the king, said Mswati III “has announced that a process of national dialogue… will be initiated” after an annual ritual ceremony that starts in November and usually lasts several months.
During the ceremony known as Incwala, the king goes into seclusion and does not engage in official government activities.
Ginindza said the king wanted calm, and “an end to all violence as no dialogue can happen while tempers are this high”.
But opposition and pro-democracy groups rubbished the his call “as a ploy to mislead” mediators.
“We have long lost hope in such forums, and therefore we shall not attend the meeting,” they vowed in a statement.
“We will not allow the king who has blood on his hands to call the shots of how and where the dialogue will be held”.
“There can be no calm or peaceful dialogue as long as the security forces continue to kill and maim the people,” they said.
Police said 37 people had died since the violent anti-monarchy protests first flared in June, fuelled by discontent over living conditions and lack of political freedom in the tiny southern African kingdom.
– ‘Respect for human rights’ –
But local civic group Leftu Sonkhe Institute of Strategic Thinking and Development suggests the unrest has so far claimed around 80 lives.
“His majesty has sent us to pass our sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones during the unrest,” said Ginindza.
On Thursday, the government banned all protests.
Mediators from the 16-nation Southern African Development Community concluded two-day mediation talks with the king, government and civil society groups on Friday.
In a statement on Saturday, SADC’s head of politics and defence, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, backed the idea of a national dialogue.
Ramaphosa appealed “for calm, restraint, the respect for the rule of law and human rights on all sides to enable the process to commence”.
King Mswati III is Africa’s last absolute monarch, who enjoys flaunting his wealth and showering his 15 wives with lavish gifts.
Yet he rules over one of the poorest countries in the world, where nearly two-thirds of the population lives in poverty.
He earlier this week said he was not prepared to negotiate with “drunkards”, in an apparent reference to pro-democracy activists. AFP