- The Eswatini government said 27 people have been killed, while billions of rand in damages were inflicted.
- Activists say the death toll could be nearly twice as high.
- While SADC meets to discuss Eswatini, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement of concern.
The death toll in Eswatini's protests has risen to 27, the country's minister of trade and commerce told news agencies on Wednesday.
The figure from Manqoba Khumalo is a shift from the government's position, which would not provide figures until an independent investigation was released. The status of that investigation is still unclear.
The Eswatini government has moved to share relatively more information since the start of the protests more than a week ago. It was marked shift from the information blackout from the previous week.
Still, activists dispute the figures.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said its records showed 54 people were killed. More than 200 were admitted to hospitals in different parts of the country, added the SSN's Lucky Lukhele.
Lawyer and civil society leader Thuli Makama told News24 the death toll had risen to above 50.
Last week, the pro-democracy opposition movement Pudemo said its numbers were closer to 70 killed in the last week.
Job losses and damage
Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku said the protest had led to 5 000 jobs lost, and R3 billion in damages.
An estimated 1 000 small businesses were also affected.
Ten Tinkundla offices, Eswatini's local constituency administrations, were also completely destroyed.
Masuku was particularly critical of the damage done to national health services, adding it exacerbated the country's Covid-19 burden.
A fire gutted the Nhlangano Regional Health offices, while several ambulances and other health department vehicles were set alight.
"This unfortunate situation has affected our Covid-19 response in many ways, but we remain determined and unfazed in our quest to provide health services to all emaSwati," Masuku said during a briefing.
Government's account challenged
The SSN disputed what it called the state's "childish fairy tales" to hide King Mswati III's "heavy handed response to peaceful protests".
The opposition group aims to charge the king and current government for crimes against humanity. It has also called on the international community to intervene to end the violence, particularly the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union.
SADC's ministerial committee on politics, defence and cooperation met on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in eSwatini, along with other issues.
International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor will lead the meeting.
Earlier this week, a SADC delegation travelled to Eswatini to meet with the government and members of civil society. After a day-long visit that was met with criticism for its narrow scope, it promised to return to the embattled kingdom.
Growing calls for concern
In a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns over reports of violence in Eswatini.
"We have received allegations of disproportionate and unnecessary use of force, harassment and intimidation by security forces in suppressing last week's protests, including the use of live ammunition by police," said the commissioner's spokesperson, Liz Throssell.
It also cautioned against looting and arson by protesters.
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