One of the three dissident MPs in Eswatini is consulting his legal team about whether he should hand himself over to the police.
Mduduzi Simelane, a pivotal figure in the recent unrest sparked by demands for democratic reforms in the landlocked monarchy, has been in hiding for about three weeks since he heard that a warrant of arrest had been issued against him. Simelane is also a popular gospel musician known as Magawugawu.
His two colleagues – Mthandeni Dube and Bacede Mabuza – were arrested last Sunday, allegedly based on an order by King Mswati III, and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
This act, passed in 2008, was used to proscribe political and civil rights organisations such as the People’s United Democratic Movement, the Swaziland Youth Congress, the South Africa-based Swaziland Solidarity Network and the Swaziland People’s Liberation Army.
Dube and Mabuza appeared in the Mbabane High Court on Thursday for their bail application, but Judge Mummcy Dlamini has reserved judgment.
The MPs’ appearance saw crowds protesting in the capital city, Mbabane, demanding their release on bail. However, police dispersed them with teargas.
On Friday, Simelane told City Press:
In a social media post two days prior to that, he said that Eswatini national police commissioner William Dlamini had labelled him a “fugitive of law”, despite the fact that he was stopped by police at a roadblock last Saturday, preventing him from attending a funeral.
“The police didn’t arrest me, but the following day, they arrested Dube and Mabuza. On Monday, the police commissioner said on radio that I was a fugitive of law. It’s clear that they’ll arrest me and make sure I don’t get bail,” he said.
Eswatini government spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini denied that the arrests of MPs were ordered by Mswati.
“Arrests are effected by police based on their independent investigations, not by order of the king or anyone else,” he said, adding that the king was committed to sitting around the table with his people once Covid-19 infections had subsided.
FULL-SCALE POLICE INVESTIGATION
The national police commissioner this week said that full-scale investigations had been launched into those who violated laws such as the Suppression of Terrorism Act, the Public Order Act of 2017, the Road Traffic Act of 2007 and Covid-19 regulations 2020 under the Disaster Management Act.
The protests in Eswatini saw public and private infrastructure, trucks and vehicles valued at R3 billion being destroyed. The country’s government has allocated R500 million to repairing the damage and has also opened a kitty for donations.
Before the outbreak of violent protests, political and civil society organisations – as well as the three MPs – urged communities to submit petitions to them demanding the election of a prime minister and democratic reforms in the country.
“The investigations have so far led to the arrests of 697 people, including – most recently – two MPs. There’s one other MP – Mduduzi Simelane – whose warrant of arrest is in our possession. We call on him to surrender himself to the nearest police station,” the commissioner said.
“The investigation process is forging ahead and we anticipate that more violators of the law – be they instigators of violence or other players in the broad spectrum of unruliness – will be caught. We urge all those in possession of looted property to surrender their loot to the police to avoid falling foul of the law,” he added.
While it is believed that up to 75 people were killed and 150 injured by the police and army at the height of the uprising, the commissioner said that only 34 people had died.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ for Politics, Defence and Security visited Eswatini from July 15 to 22, consulting extensively with stakeholders and analysing the political and security situation to find a solution.
However, the SADC delegation was accused of bias for not meeting the People’s United Democratic Movement, which is the biggest political organisation in the country. The delegation failed to respond to questions about the matter.