Southern African Development Community (SADC) said on Saturday that Eswatini’s King Mswati III – Africa’s last absolute monarch had accepted the need for a national dialogue after pro-democracy protests intensified this month.
Envoys from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and the regional group visited Eswatini on Thursday and Friday and met the king, the prime minister, civil society organisations, trade unions and others, SADC said in a statement.
“King Mswati III has accepted the need for national dialogue. I appeal for calm, restraint, the respect for the rule of law and human rights on all sides to enable the process to commence,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement in his capacity as chair of the SADC’s politics organ.
The monarch plans to convene a meeting where people can express their grievances, a representative of the king told the state broadcaster.
“Let the people continue the noble fight for a free and democratic new country,” Wandile Dludlu, secretary-general of the opposition People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO),told Reuters.
Anger against 53-year-old Mswati III has been building for years.
Campaigners say he has consistently ignored calls for reforms that would move Eswatini, known as Swaziland until 2018, towards democracy.
The king denies accusations of autocratic rule and of using public money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the impoverished nation that borders South Africa. In July, he called protests against his rule “satanic”.
Recent protests have included demonstrations in schools by students, bus drivers blocking roads and marches by unions.
A police report on protests by civil servants on Wednesday said security forces had shot one demonstrator with a rubber bullet, but that police had no record of any fatalities during the unrest.
The government ordered mobile network operators to suspend access to Facebook and its messenger app, the local unit of telecoms company MTN Group said this week.
In the video below, Spokesperson of the pro-democracy Swaziland Solidarity Network Lucky Lukhele gives more details about the pro-democracy protests:
‘Hope for change’
People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) in Eswatini hopes the envoys sent by President Cyril Rampahosa would bring about change in that country.
The deployment comes as violence and allegations of human rights violations continue in the midst of pro-democracy protests.
PUDEMO says King Mswati III should be forced to relinquish power as the people of Eswatini are determined to reform the country. PUDEMO President, Mlungisi Makhanya says South Africa should impose sanctions on the monarch.
“If Swaziland is to change, we are the ones who must do it and we are determined and committed to doing it. He owns a significant investment in a lot of areas in South Africa. His children his relatives are studying in South Africa. If South Africa were to agree to say it will consider imposing sanctions on the king and those who are responsible for the killings of people in Swaziland. Swaziland will change tomorrow. So we think South Africa can assist us.”
Senior Researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue Faith Mabera has warned that the SADC deployment to Eswatini is unlikely to succeed because of the monarchy’s determination to undermine all intervention efforts.
In his capacity as chairperson of the SADC Organ on Defence, Politics and Security, President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed envoys who will travel to Eswatini on Friday. They include former cabinet minister Jeff Radebe and International Relations Deputy Minister Candith Mashego-Dlamini.
The appointments come as the situation is reported to have deteriorated in Eswatini with the Swaziland Solidarity Network saying seven people have been confirmed dead and 80 others wounded. The protesters in the kingdom are calling for the release of two members of parliament who were arrested in July.
Mabera says the SADC envoys have an extremely difficult task at hand. -Additional reporting by SABC News