Three months after police violently cracked down on pro-democracy protests in Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland and Africa’s last absolute monarchy, the movement has continued quietly. Young people played an important role in the protests, with the latest wave of opposition focusing on school boycotts at various high schools and universities across the country throughout September. Videos online show crowds of students leaving their classes in protest.
Eswatini is a small landlocked country in southern Africa. Its leader, King Mswati III, ruled for 35 years by decree. Officially, at least 27 people have been killed in the frenzied protests that erupted in Eswatini in late June 2021. However, human rights groups argue that the number could actually be much higher, closer to 100 .
The first demonstrations subsided after several weeks full of looting, burning tires and buildings and violent police reprisals. But high school and college students continued to quietly mobilize, organizing walkouts and handing over petitions to parliamentary representatives.
[In Pictures]: School pupils in the constituency of Hosea which is a constituency of one of the arrested pro-democracy deputies, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza; are in the streets to demand the release of the arrested deputies.#EswatiniProtests #freeMthandeni #FreeBacede pic.twitter.com/B5AFcW4Sxc
– Swaziland Economic Freedom Fighters (@EFFSwazi) September 15, 2021
Photos posted on Twitter on September 22 show a crowd of students from south Eswatini leaving their classes in protest.
Now happening in Mbabane: students from the Nazanere University of Southern Africa walk towards the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.
– CPS (@CPSwaziland) September 21, 2021
Photos posted on Twitter on September 21 show students at a university in Mbabane marching for democracy.
Students and young people have played a key role in the pro-democracy movement, which arose out of anger and allegations of police brutality after the death of a young law student in mysterious circumstances blamed on the police last May.
Pro-democracy protesters in Swaziland have demanded elections and the right to elect the country’s prime minister, as well as accountability for parliamentary representatives who they say are silent on issues such as police brutality and corruption.
Currently, the King appoints the Prime Minister, as well as ministers, heads of agencies and judges. Eswatini has been an absolute monarchy since the 1970s, shortly after gaining independence from the UK.
“This movement is a decision maker of our future”
Thabo (not his real name) is a university student from the Eswatini center involved in a national student association. The FRANCE 24 Observers team has chosen not to publish its real name for security reasons.
All universities and students of higher education institutions have been part of the pro-democracy movement. Our student union motto is clear, it says that we are members of the community before we are students. Therefore, we decided to say, ‘Let’s take it back to our communities.’ We decided to go back and petition our various representatives in the various ridings.
For Thabo, the fight for democracy is more important than missing classes and taking exams in an already interrupted school year:
The protests go hand in hand with the issue of Covid-19 and different school calendars, university calendars, have changed. Some universities are still doing their first semester, others are trying to finish the second semester. Some people who were due to graduate this year will graduate next year because, as a result of the unrest [in June and July], the Prime Minister decided to close everything, including schools – everything was at a standstill.
What happened throughout this process and movement is important especially for young people and students. It is because he is a decision maker of our future. Even if we can try to continue our studies in the different universities of the country, without a free and democratic Swaziland which will create opportunities for us as young people, we will be in a serious situation in the future. Therefore, this process and these protests will help change the political arena in the country.
These events were organized with young and old and the influence of different communities, because all we need is freedom and freedom for all. The king of the land is the law itself. Everything is decided by him. The operations we have in this country are no longer bearable.
Speaking up can be dangerous for Eswatini students: On September 19, soldiers attacked students at William Pitcher College who were on strike after failing to receive their allowances and reimbursements for Covid-backed universities 19. The soldiers reportedly fired tear gas at halls of residence and beat students with batons.
High school students on strike
The student demonstrations were not limited to the university level: throughout September, high school students from several regions of Eswatini organized boycotts. On September 23, students from 10 different high schools all left their classes, mainly in the southern region of Shiselweni, raising concerns that students were late for exam season in October.
[Videoð¥]: Lulakeni High School students joined in calling for democracy in Swaziland and the immediate release of pro-democracy MPs. This is a different generation and unlike the previous generation our demands will not be postponed! We want freedom NOW! #EswatiniProtests pic.twitter.com/V7wZyRV3H2
– Swaziland Economic Freedom Fighters (@EFFSwazi) September 16, 2021
A video posted to Twitter on September 16 shows students at Lulakeni High School in the Shiselweni area leaving their classes.
Some students responded that they would not take their exams until two MPs arrested in July were released, local media reported.
Key figures of the movement for democracy, the deputies Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were arrested on July 26 for terrorism. On September 20, the trial of the two deputies was postponed from mid-October to the end of November, several days after their requests for bail were rejected, rekindling the anger of the pro-democracy movement.
Videos show high school students from Nkanini High School boycotting their classes on September 22. Some students hold a sign saying, âFree our arrested MPs.
A Swaziland News video shared to Facebook on September 22 shows students from a rural high school leaving the classroom in protest.
The the prime minister replied to this wave of school protests on September 23, claiming that children were “used to subconsciously push other people’s agendas.”
On the throne since 1986, King Mswati III has 15 wives and more than 25 children. He was accused of using public funds to finance a luxurious lifestyle for himself and his family. After several months of demonstrations and calls for change, the king did not give in to the demands of the demonstrators.
According to the World Bank, more than 58% of Eswatini’s population lived below the poverty line in 2016, and the unemployment rate in 2020 was around 23%. Youth unemployment is estimated to be even higher, at over 50%.