At least 80 people were injured in Eswatini on Wednesday, a union leader said, as security forces cracked down on escalating pro-democracy protests in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
Gunfire was heard into the night in the capital Mbabane, and the civil servants’ union NAPSAWU said at least one man had been shot dead earlier in the day.
“The army and the police killed one person at about 3PM today,” union president Oscar Nkambule told AFP.
Fifty of its members were taken to hospital in the capital Mbabane, with another 30 hospitalised in the city of Manzini, including some with gunshot wounds, he added.
Hundreds of soldiers and police began fanning through both cities early in the day, firing teargas at even small gatherings of people and unleashing volleys of rubber bullets.
The kingdom – formerly known as Swaziland – again shut down the internet as images of the violence began circulating on social media.
As the violence again escalated, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke with King Mswati III by telephone on Wednesday morning, Pretoria’s high commission said in a statement.
Ramaphosa currently chairs the security organ of the Southern African Development Community. The statement said Ramaphosa had ordered high-level envoys to fly to Eswatini to meet the king on Thursday afternoon.
South Africa’s head of public diplomacy Clayson Monyela said on Twitter: “South Africa notes with concern the recent developments in Eswatini and calls on security forces to exercise total restraint and protect lives and property.”
Nkambule told AFP that the violence began around 7AM and accused security forces of firing teargas into a bus carrying protesting workers.
Videos shared online showed people jumping from the windows of a bus enveloped in white gas.
The internet went offline at noon, as students, transport workers and civil servants extended protests that have ground the tiny nation to a halt for more than two weeks.
Crackdown … At least 80 people were taken to hospital after being wounded by security forces, said a union leader (PICTURE/AFP)
Upside down … A man passes by a blocked road in the Msunduza towship of Mbabane on October 20, 2021 (PICTURE/AFP )
“This is a recipe for war,” said Wonder Mkhonza, head of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland.
“The king is fighting for a war, he is making the country ungovernable by deploying the armed forces.”
The internet shutdown made it difficult to share information about the protests, or to alert the families of the wounded and dead.
Heavily armed soldiers and police were seen on the streets, while one Mbabane high school caught fire, sending plumes of smoke billowing over the city.
At least 29 people have now died this year as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history.
He is criticised for living a lavish lifestyle in one of the world’s poorest countries and is also accused of stifling political parties.