No one had ever thought that our country, Eswatini (formerly, Swaziland), would ever experience the recent, unprecedented turmoil of last year, June/July, which culminated in scores of death of our people, allegedly at the hands of security agencies, most notably, the army. The chaos also resulted in serious injuries to some protesters, burning of, and vandalism, as well as looting of property belonging to businesses.
The superficial atmosphere of “peace” we had become to be globally known for as kingdom, had all these past decades, hidden a simmering cauldron of anger, dissatisfaction, and mounting disillusionment at the manner our government had ruled her citizens for many decades.
At the core of many of our problems, had been immoral acts like corruption, subtle oppression of the people by the leadership, blatant violation of numerous, fundamental human rights, e.g., freedom of expression, and assembly, police brutality, nepotism, a skewed distribution of the country's economy, and many other ills.
In spite of a growing call by the populace for our leadership to be accountable to the people, this had been largely ignored. Gross wastage of taxpayers money had seen our government embarking on numerous projects which ended up being white elephants, bringing no tangible benefits to the people.
Flaunting of wealth by some members of royalty, and those privileged to be connected to the royal institution, had been another issue invoking the ire of the people. This had been taking place for as long as one could remember. Because of the inherent fear of criticizing immoral acts commítted by this institution in fear of reprisals, many had come to accept this, albeit, reluctantly.
Behind the facade of “peace” from the general populace, there had been an increasing, and mounting, clarion call for change - any change that would result in the people's lives taking a turn for the better. Sadly, such hopes were continually dashed, most notably with the perennial excuse ‘“song” sung by our authorities that “government is broke” being relentlessly sung, rendering it a scratched song.
The gap between the poor, and the rich continues to widen, alarmingly. Many of our people wallow in a cesspool of poverty, living on less than $2 per day. Cost of basic, crucial commodities like food, electricity, escalate every year, in spite of cries from the masses for s respite.
Shortage of drugs in government-owned hospitals, has grossly affected the health of many patients, most notably, the elderly, who are living from hand to mouth. Patients are prescribed non available meds, which they have to purchase in expensive pharmacies.
Peace, prosperity, and many other aspirations of the people remain elusive, and as slippery as an eel. The pious nature of the Swazi people - something the authorities had always insidiously taken advantage of, over the years - render the people comatose, unable to realize even basic prosperity in their lives, and fearing to openly criticize authority, because such could land one behind bars.
Talking about fear… The ruling, status quo had been experts at using fear as a tool to whip into submission any dissenting voices, for a very long time, now. It is one of the most potent weapons the system of governance had mastered to perfection over the years. Any dissenting voices are often brutally crushed by branches of the security agencies, like the paramilitary police, who had more often than not, been unleashed on protesters toyi-toying over labour related issues, or demanding legitimate political changes. The results had often been horrific….The only language our leadership understand is brutality.
As media, we had persistently warned our authorities about failure to take into consideration the wishes of the people, as well as potential consequences of doing so, but in vain. We are the people on the ground, and know about many of the aggrieved sentiments of the people. This has caused a simmering cauldron of anger, and dissatisfaction in a majority of the populace. People want a better life for themselves, and their offspring. They pay taxes, and want value for their hard-earned money.
The disgruntlement has now reached boiling point, erupted, and exploded into what the country is currently going through. A point of not return has now been reached. The Rubicon of tolerance has been crossed… The people have had enough.
It all began with the death of one, Mr. Thabani Nkomeni, a law student who studied in one of the country's universities. He died a tragic and mysterious death, allegedly at the hands of the police. Our police force had always been infamous for acts of brutality against citizens of the country for many years. In spite of calls for the government to address this, it had continued to take place, unabated, to this day. It's been a ticking time bomb, bound to explode one day, blowing everyone, and everything to smithereens.
The youth demonstrated in the streets, demanding justice for the late Thabani. The death of their colleague became a rallying point… calls for sweeping, political and socioeconomic changes. This culminated in the delivery of petitions in various tinkhundla constituencies, imploring the government to address a lot of contentious issues. The petition deliveries were conducted peacefully, with security forces refraining from using force to disperse gatherings. Such tolerant attitude would, sadly, not last.long, though.
Chaos erupted after the then Acting Prime Minister, Themba Masuku - a leader many loved to hate because of his haughty attitude - decreed a stop to the delivery of petitions in all remaining Tinkhundla centres. All hell broke loose…
Chaotic situations ensued. One of the three Members of Parliament (MPs) (dubbed, Change MPs) who led the call for an elected Prime Minister, as opposed to an appointed one, was stopped by uncompromising police officers from going to receive a petition by the youth in his constituency. He was blatantly told in the face by uncompromising cops that his right to freedom of movement was being denied. Such act was a gross violation of the Constitution. Local cops are infamous for not respecting the country's Constitution, and are on record as having utterd such words violating the constitutional rights of the people.
What was the main catalyst to this, which basically pulled the trigger on such unprecedented, chaotic situations? Unemployment, nepotism, lack of scholarships, and lack of political will in addressing these, and other issues, had not gone down very well with a majority of the people, especially the youth. Coupled with many other negative acts like, poor service delivery in many sectors by a nonchalant government, a chaotic, collision course was in the making..It was only a matter of time before the fuse was lit, and things went out of control.
Social ills like the healthcare sector had been hard-hit for many years, with a perennial non-availment of optimum health services to the people. It was pitifully, lacking. A shortage of crucial drugs in government owned hospitals had been going on for years. Brutal treatment of patients, and other ill treatment of patients by medical staff personnel in some government-owned hospitals had been incessantly reported by the media, with little or no action taken.
It is imperative here that I mention that two key sectors - health and education - had relentlessly failed to attract a reasonable, yearly Budget allocation from the government. The lion's share of the Budget, had persistently been allocated to none-crucial, ministries like the Ministry of Defence. The school of thought coming from many people had been that the country was not a war; why then allocate such huge chunks of the budget to an army that was idling, with no wars to fight?
Three progressive Members of Parliament who kick-started a serious campaign for change, were joined by other political formations, who had for years, called for democratic changes. Prominent political formations like the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) were proscribed, “terrorists”. Cadres affiliated to these formations, had been harrassed, brutalized, with some incarcerated, and a few dying suspicious deaths, whilst in custody.
As the protests grew in momentum, the brutality of the security agencies, grew.. Deranged security agencies members, most notably the army, in their quest to stop the protests, began using live ammunition on protesters.. Young people brutally lost their lives. Those who survived the systematic shooting of protesters, ended up with some limbs amputated. Reports about children, some as young as 9 to 16 years, surfaced that they had been shot dead in coldblood.
What was going on, the people asked? Who had given the order to kill? Speculations were rife…Was it the king, as Commander-in-Chief of the army?
As I write this article, a pervading atmosphere of fear engulfs the country. One even fears stepping outside the four walls of his, or her place of abode. People live in fear of our cops, and the army. We cannot live like this… Something has to give. Hatred for our leadership has reached alarming levels. Social media platforms, the ordinary man on the street are up in arms, and condemning our leadership. The buzzword is, “We want change…now!”
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) had been roped in to try and bring sanity to prevail in a nation torn apart by violence and hatred.
My take? Our leadership has to stop being stubborn. They need to sit down and negotiate with the people in order for lasting peace to be achieved. Change cannot be prevented. No immovable force of whatever strength can prevent change. It is about time our leaders listened to the people. Winds of change cannot be prevented by use of brutality, guns, and rubber bullets…Shalom!