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Eswatini closes schools indefinitely as pro-democracy protests flare up

by Staff writer
18 Oct 2021 at 21:36hrs | Views
Eswatini, Africa's last absolute monarchy, said Saturday it had shut its schools "indefinitely with immediate effect" as the country faces a wave of pro-democracy protests.

Protests have flared up in Eswatini, months after authorities loyal to King Mswati III quashed an earlier round of demonstrations using tear gas and water cannon.

The protests last week included demonstrations in schools by students chanting "Mswati must fall" and "Release our MPs," a reference to two lawmakers arrested during anti-monarchy protests this year.

Bus drivers blocked some of the main roads in the city of Manzini.

"His Majesty's government has taken the decision to close schools indefinitely with immediate effect," Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini said in a statement.

According to pro-democracy activists, the army and police have been deployed in schools, and several students have been arrested.

Anger against King Mswati has been building for years. Campaigners say the 53-year-old king has consistently ignored calls for reforms that would nudge Eswatini, which changed its name from Swaziland in 2018, in the direction of democracy.

The king denies accusations of autocratic rule and of using public money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the impoverished nation that borders South Africa. In July he called protests against his rule "satanic" and said they had taken the country backwards.

Prime minister Dlamini told state radio that differing views were not an excuse for old people to use "school children in advancing their political goals".

In June, at least 28 people died as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country's history.

On Friday, Eswatini shut down the internet for two hours as pro-democracy marchers headed to the capital.

The shutdown came as images of the protests circulated on social and traditional media, including pictures of two people who said they had been injured by gunshots fired by security forces.

The internet shutdown blocked social media completely for two hours, and left many services running very slowly afterwards.

On Saturday, the situation was calm, according to an AFP journalist.

King Mswati III has ruled Eswatini since 1986 and owns shares in all of the country's telecoms.

He is criticised for living a lavish lifestyle in one of the world's poorest countries and is also accused of stifling political parties.

Regional pressure has been growing on the king to implement reforms.

On Sunday, the leader of South Africa's Communist Party Nzimande said: "The time for democracy in Eswatini is long overdue. It's unfortunate now that the situation is deteriorating, blood is being spilled.

"We are calling for the democratisation of Eswatini and for all the progressive forces in the region including SADC to put pressure on the Eswatini government to democratise.

"The time for monarchical governments is over. If we can assist that process to happen as peacefully as possible the better for the people of Eswatini, and the region."

Source - AFP/Reuters