Eswatini: 'Winter revolution' cripples international company, locals affected

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King Mswati III.
King Mswati III.
PHOTO: Timothy A Clary/AFP
  • Inyatsi Construction's European Union-funded water harvesting project is in limbo after attacks.
  • The company has been forced to shut down after three terror attacks this year.
  • A R500 000 reward has been offered for information that could lead to the arrest of the perpetrators. 

Eswatini's "winter revolution" has derailed a European Union-funded project as pro-democracy groups push for the abdication of King Mswati III.

Swaziland International Solidarity Forces (SISF) is a group aligned with an extremist faction of the pro-democracy movement that plans to overthrow the latest target, Inyatsi Construction - an international firm that operates in nine African countries, including Zambia, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Botswana.

It is one of the companies on a "terror hit list", drawn up by pro-democracy extremists, that targets businesses that are believed to be linked to the kingdom's royalty.

"We will continue with our programme unabated and we will make sure that Inyatsi and all [its] subsidiaries are dislodged from capturing the Swazi economy, " the press in Eswatini quoted SISF's anonymous commander.

Melusi Hlatjwako, a Swazi social commentator pursuing studies at the University of West England, said the attacks were misguided.

He said:

They are throwing out the baby with the bath water - that's rejecting what they feel is bad along with the good. It's not wise.

For big companies that bring in foreign direct investment (FDI) and are a model of security for investors, they should tread carefully, he added.

"What's happening now is that they are destroying the communities that multilateral bodies like the EU are trying to save from abject poverty," he said.

"When these kinds of companies are threatened, they easily can find jobs in other countries but local communities would never escape from the clutches of poverty if these terrorist acts persist."

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Last Thursday, extremists burnt Inyatsi Construction machinery in Sigombeni, where it had been deployed to work on a European Union-funded community project, destroying heavy plant equipment worth an estimated R8 million. 

By suspending operations for a week to assess its exposure and tighten security, Inyatsi Construction might suffer a loss of revenue to the tune of R50 million, sources in Eswatini told News24.

While it's celebrated as a victory for those using economic strategies so that the king feels the pinch, it's bad for Inyatsi Construction.

News24 has learnt that Inyatsi worked on more than 60 different projects, funded by several donors and King Mswati III's government.

In the Sigombeni project, Inyatsi was working on an Eswatini Water and Agricultural Development Enterprise water harvesting-project, funded by the European Union.

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The EU, through its National Development Plan (2021-2027), had set aside about R278.37 million that aims to achieve three results: increased water storage capacity; enhanced production capacity for smallholders and strengthened institutional capacity. 

"As part of activities towards achieving the project purpose, [the] WHDP (Water Harvesting Small and Medium Dams Project) contemplates the construction and rehabilitation of water storage structures and land development and irrigation schemes for the irrigation of more than 500 hectares and will directly benefit an estimated population of 6 000 persons," the EU-Eswatini cooperation plan reads.

In the last six months, Inyatsi Construction has been hit thrice: On 3 February, 7 March and 16 June.

The most recent attack resulted in a reported R65 million in damage. As such, the company was forced to halt operations, affecting workers.

In a press statement, the company said that "although Inyatsi Construction is a clear target of these attacks, the company itself is not the real victim. The incalculable and far-reaching consequences of these attacks have been, sadly, borne by the communities, sub-contractors and employees who rely on the company."

The domino effect of the week-long suspension will affect nearly 30 000 locals whose livelihoods depend on the company. The local media reported that Inyatsi directly employs 2 300 workers, mostly locals. The company also subcontracts 126 small local companies that employ more than 600 employees and has more than 80 plant suppliers who employ more than 270 workers. These add up to 3 170 workers.

National statistics in Eswatini indicate the dependency ratio is 1:7, meaning seven people rely on one breadwinner.

ALSO READ | Hunger claims children in forgotten corner of Uganda

Thus, when using this figure, more 22 000 people could go hungry as the company feels the pressure from the attacks.

CEO Derrick Shiba said: "The money we pay our employees starts circulating in the country even if there are interests elsewhere, but everyone is paid within this economy. In terms of numbers, we are talking about a [salary] bill of R400 million per year that is circulating here in Eswatini," Shiba said.

Apart from reconfiguring operations to heighten safety and security measures in the face of attacks, the company offered a R500 000 reward for information that could lead to the arrest of the perpetrators.

National police commissioner William Dlamini said he was aware of Inyatsi's reward offer. 

"The company has already approached our office to inform us of their gesture, which we appreciate. We believe their reward will make people come forward with the relevant information which will lead us to the arrest and charging of offenders. We are not talking of conviction this time as that is the space reserved for the courts," he said.

There have been allegations that last year's "winter revolution" involved foreign-funded protests.

However, SADC has not done anything to counter or verify those allegations.

Writing for the Institute for Security Studies research consultant Ringisai Chikohomero said: "Eswatini is drifting further away from solving the crisis through dialogue. Opposition party members and civil society continue to demonstrate, and the security forces continue to carry out illegal detentions and torture against protest leaders." 

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 the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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