In his first public appearance since riots, King Mswati blamed protesters for the killing of civilians and slammed activists.
Eswatini pro-democracy MP, Mduduzi Simelane, has gone into hiding as he fears for his life. But he says he will meet with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation that is on a fact-finding mission in the country this week.
Public protests, which later turned violent, started three weeks ago, with people in the tiny kingdom demanding political reforms.
Simelane, Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were the three MPs who lobbied Parliament to directly elect the replacement of prime minister Ambrose Dlamini, who succumbed to Covid-19 in December, as opposed to the new prime minister being handpicked by King Mswati III.
The MPs and pro-democracy groups then asked the public to submit petitions to Parliament to demand democratic changes and improved service delivery.
In response, government unleashed the police and army on the protesters under the guise of enforcing Covid-19 protocols.
This sparked nationwide violent protests that left more than 75 people dead, about 1 000 in detention and damage to property and infrastructure estimated at R3 billion.
Furthermore, the people were angry that the country could not afford salary increases and scholarships, yet the royal family continued with their extravagant lifestyles. Simelane told City Press this week that he had gone into hiding as he feared for his life.
“You cannot challenge these people and expect to be safe. I’m happy, though, that the international community has seen what is happening here and its eyes have been opened widely,” he said. “We will keep pushing for democracy and political change. We have lost so many souls already and we cannot let them die for nothing. The international community must intervene before more blood is spilled.”
The SADC organ on politics, defence and security is already in Eswatini and witnessed King Mswati III addressing the Sibaya gathering at the Ludzidzini Palace near Manzini on Friday, his first public appearance since the uprisings began.
The gathering is supposed to be a platform where the monarch consults with his people on key issues, but he delivered the speech and announced former Public Service Pension Fund CEO, Cleopas Dlamini, as new the prime minister – and then left.
Pro-democracy groups had organised a protest march in Manzini on Friday morning, but law enforcement agencies responded with force, shooting at the people in the town.
For the first time, the Sibaya gathering was poorly attended and the buses and trucks government sent to collect people to attend it were not full.
The SADC troika will be in Eswatini until July 22.
Mswati accused the pro-democracy groups of behaving like they were “smoking dagga”, and said that the protests were nothing but “satanic”. He denied that he had fled to Mozambique at the height of the protests and blamed the protesters for the deaths.
“It’s satanic what they [protesters] did. They killed people, burned businesses, ambulances and vehicles. You ask yourself: Did we have to reach such a level? Some people had invested everything and today all of that has burned into ashes,” Mswati said.
He said he had convinced investors not to turn their backs on the country.
Mswati said his government had allocated R500 million to rebuild the country and decried the fact that insurance companies were doubtful they could cover all the damage caused. His government, he said, had decided to establish the reconstruction programme fund to repair the damage.
“We will have to approach the banks to rebuild the nation and uplift the economy,” said Mswati.
However, he did not mention anything about the families who lost their loved ones and the people who were injured by the heavy-handed army.
Simelane said: “This shows clearly that property is valued more than the lives of the people in this country. What is there for the families who lost their loved ones and why is there no political will to get close to the bereaved families?”
Meanwhile, People’s United Democratic Movement president Mlungisi Makhanya was arrested and released on Friday for failing to comply with the police.
He was part of the march in Manzini.
Simelane said he would push the SADC for dialogue between the pro-democracy groups and government.
“We need to clarify that the state lied when it said people were killed by mercenaries. The state massacred the people,” Simelane said.
He said that it was time the SADC stopped giving the Eswatini government “too much respect”.