Mswati tests his popularity after deadly Eswatini protests

Mswati tests his popularity after deadly Eswatini protests
Eswatini's King Mswati III. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yeshiel Panchia)

Embattled Eswatini King Mswati faces a test of his popularity after calling his people to a meeting at the palace on Friday to address the lethal and destructive protests which have just rocked the country.

Opposition forces are calling for a boycott of this so-called “Sibaya” with the king and are planning protests against it at the same time.

Some have also raised concerns about the king calling such a large gathering when the country is supposed to be in the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic 

To further complicate the day, a delegation of regional ministers will be in Eswatini at the same time, to consult with various forces about the protests earlier this month.

However, it is not yet clear if the ministers, representing the security organ troika of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), will meet the political opposition and civil society. 

Foreign ministers Naledi Pandor of South Africa, Lemogang Kwape of Botswana and Frederick Shava of Zimbabwe visited Eswatini for one day on 4 July and met only a government delegation. When the government’s opponents remonstrated with the ministers about this, they agreed to return to Eswatini to meet them. 

On Tuesday, the SADC secretariat in Gaborone announced the “SADC organ troika ministerial technical fact-finding mission to Eswatini” would visit the country from 15-22 July “for consultations with stakeholders with the assistance of the government of Eswatini”. 

But the statement did not say if the same ministers would be on this week’s mission or if they would meet the real opposition. Thulani Maseko, the chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholders Coordinating Team which represents opposition political parties and civil society groups, told Daily Maverick he was still trying to organise the meeting. 

He expressed some concern that the SADC delegation’s meetings were being arranged through the Swazi government. But he also said that since the delegation would be in Eswatini for several days this time, the team would do all it could to meet them.

The Sibaya, to be held in the Ludzidzini royal residence, is an uncommon event in Eswatini where King Mswati ostensibly consults his people for advice. As the palace said in announcing the Friday event: “As per the Kingdom of Eswatini’s Constitution, ‘the people, through Sibaya, constitute the highest policy and advisory council (Libandla) of the Nation.’ ”

However, with an opposition boycott and protest being called at the same time, Friday’s events could prove to be an ad-hoc test of the king’s popularity. 

And some Swazis — or emaSwati — are sceptical about the king’s supposed intention to really listen to his people at the Sibaya. 

“Many emaSwati have recently become very weary of entering any royal Sibaya, due to its close association with rituals,” one of them said. 

“The government can’t just have it their way. Stopping gatherings, due to Covid-19, and then summoning them. Which is which? If the Sibaya meeting is on Zoom and nationally broadcast, I shall attend. 

“I hope all the demands, that have been made by the nation, will be in hand and ready to be granted. Before we forget, let us remember that all the past Sibayas were an absolute box-ticking exercise. Has anything been achieved from them? 

“A senior prince, explaining the participation of the nation in such an event, said ‘Benitihhamula’ (Just venting hot air), as he knew clearly that the nation’s concerns would never be actioned. So now we are back to that show, as it is the ‘Swazi’ way?”

Swazi foreign minister Thuli Dladla reportedly told SADC last week that its plans for “national consultations” with Swazis over the political crisis might not be possible because of the third wave of the Covid pandemic.

The king’s calling of the Sibaya appears to contradict this position. DM


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