‘Definitely, there’s gonna be a lot of fighting’: Activists prepare for mass demonstration in Eswatini
As the hours ticked down to a planned mass demonstration in Manzini, Eswatini, reports were circulating that the security forces were beginning their clampdown.
An activist posted on Facebook that his house was being raided. Through the afternoon the Swaziland Solidarity Network had heard that police were preventing people from travelling into Eswatini’s largest city.
This prompted the network to suggest to protesters planning to attend the gathering on Friday that they arrive early in the city and sleep over on Thursday to prevent security forces from locking them out of the city.
Still, on Thursday night the organisers were expecting a large turnout, despite soldiers patrolling the streets and the all too recent memories of the killings the soldiers and the police had committed just weeks ago.
“It is a wait-and-see situation, but tomorrow is indeed going to be a very historic day,” said human rights activist Velaphi Mamba on Thursday evening.
“It is going to be those who are going to listen to the king and those who have decided to come to Manzini.”
The aim of the protest is to launch a rolling mass action that the organisers hope will ultimately end the reign of African’s last absolute monarchy under King Mswati III and usher in democracy.
But the king, say the organisers, has tried to weaken their protest gathering by calling a sibaya on the same day.
The sibaya is a gathering where all Swazis are invited to give advice and voice their concerns. They are welcomed to come to the Ludzidzini royal residence and discuss the recent unrest that has rocked the kingdom.
But some have wondered if the king will let them even speak this time.
The last sibaya was held in 2018.
The fear for many is that the security forces, who have already shown their willingness to shoot and kill their own citizens, will again be heavy-handed in their response to the protesters.
“The problem with our security forces is that they are not trained to deal with peaceful protest,” said Mamba. “An over-militarised state only understands the language of violence against the people.”
At the least, Mamba believes that the security forces will ring-fence Manzini and prevent anyone coming in or out.
But what some activists believe might muzzle the king’s security forces this time is the Southern African Development Community’s ministerial fact-finding mission, which is in Eswatini.
However, others believe that nothing will stop the king from stamping out any dissent from his subjects, not even the presence of foreign observers or journalists.
“Definitely, there’s gonna be a lot of fighting, so we are just preparing ourselves for anything,” said a leader of the demonstration.
The organisers are expecting a good turnout, judging by the response on social media. They want five demands to be met: an all-inclusive mediated national dialogue; the unbanning of political parties; the creation of a transitional authority; a new democratic constitution; and a democratic dispensation grounded in constitutional multiparty elections for the executive and legislature.
Eswatini government spokesman Sabelo Dlamini told Daily Maverick that no authority had been given for Friday’s protest march. He stressed that citizens should attend the sibaya, where they could air their grievances.
“Every Swati regardless of colour, creed, or clan affiliation is invited and this is the highest decision-making body of the Emaswati, where major decisions of this country are taken; they must come,” Dlamini said. DM/MC
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