Eswatini MPs arrested on terrorism charges, say activists

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  • Police arrested two pro-democracy MPs, a third is reportedly being sought.
  • Activists say police disrupted the funeral of two protesters, citing Covid-19 regulations.
  • Pudemo plans to stage boycotts against businesses linked to the royal family.

Two pro-democracy Members of Parliament (MPs) were arrested in Eswatini, activists said on Monday.

Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were arrested during a weekend that saw police harden their stance against pro-democracy movements.

Mabuza and Dube were charged under the country's Suppression of Terrorism Act and will appear in the high court in Mbabane.

Police have reportedly issued a warrant of arrest for a third MP, Mduduzi Simelane, of the People's United Democratic Movement (Pudemo).

"They've wanted these MPs for quite a while," said Pudemo secretary-general Wandile Dludlu. "These are MPS who are using their constitutional right, as well as their right as MPs, to agree to any matter which they deem is of national interest."

READ | Was this the moment that ignited Eswatini’s deadly protests?

All three called for reform of Eswatini's political structure, calling for a multiparty democracy in which the citizens elect a prime minister.

The three became key figures in the run-up to the protests that lead to the deaths of at least 50 people, calling on the government to consider protesters' demands and allow them to deliver petitions to local constituency offices.

The government's ban on petitions ignited the unrest, which led to widespread demonstrations, characterised by arson and looting.

During a national dialogue earlier this month, King Mswati III ignored protesters' demands, instead naming Cleopas Dlamini as the new prime minister.

Police brutality

An end to police brutality was also a rallying call for protesters, but activists say police have since doubled down.

Two youth activists, Sgubhu Nyoni and Mphostoli Masilela, were buried over the weekend in the Mkhangala region, near the Mozambican border. The two, vocal in their criticism of the king, are believed to have been killed by security forces.

A group of protesters, who attended their funerals, were arrested for contravening Covid-19 regulations. They were fined 10 times the normal amount, in a community with high unemployment, said Dludlu.

Young people and student movements, in particular, have accused the police of years of harassment and brutality.

During the protest action, resulting in the tightening of Covid-19 regulations, police and soldiers have been accused of violating citizens' rights.

International human rights groups and foreign diplomats have urged the police to practise restraint when they respond to curfews and enforce a strict Covid-19 curfew.

Eswatini police would not comment to media outside the country, and the prime minister's office said it was looking into the matter.

Continued fight

While protest action has waned, Pudemo has vowed to continue its campaign. The group, which is banned in Eswatini, has defiantly appointed a local representative to coordinate their efforts.

They are also planning to lobby neighbouring governments and international companies to boycott businesses affiliated to the royal family from 6 August. These include businesses in telecommunications, beef, timber and the hospitality sectors. A full list of businesses will be released at a later stage. They also hope neighbouring countries, Mozambique and South Africa, will shut its borders with Eswatini.

READ | SADC fact-finding mission wraps up visit to Eswatini - with mixed results

Pudemo said it was excluded from a fact-finding mission by the Southern African Development Community, even as other groups urged the delegation to meet with the three-decade old pro-democracy movement. 

Dludlu said it was a "missed opportunity" by the regional body to engage with Pudemo and other groups, like the Swaziland Communist Party, who have been at the forefront of the decades-long political impasse in Africa's last absolute monarchy.

The group criticised what it says is southern African leaders' "leniency" with King Mswati III.

"There is a political problem in Swaziland. It needs a political solution. It needs a credible and a neutral mediator, not a pro-government and pro-incumbency 'scratch my back and I'll scratch your back, my friend' approach," said Dludlu.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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