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Killing of prominent pro-democracy activist sparked domestic and international outrage.
Unidentified gunman 21 Jan shot dead human rights lawyer and prominent pro-democracy activist Thulani Maseko at his house in Manzini region. South Africa-based opposition group Swaziland Solidarity Network 22 Jan blamed killing on King Mswati III’s regime. UN human rights chief Volker Türk 23 Jan condemned “cold-blooded killing” and called for “impartial and effective” investigation, while Southern African Development Community Organ Troika Chairperson Hage Geingob 25 Jan warned of looming civil war absent dialogue. Govt late Jan denied involvement in Maseko’s killing, said it launched investigation to find those responsible. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists 27 Jan reportedly marched to Manzini police headquarters demanding justice for Maseko; police reportedly opened fire and injured at least one demonstrator.
Pro-democracy movement turned violent as militants launched series of attacks on public buildings and officials.
Pro-democracy militant group Swaziland International Solidarity Forces (SISF) conducted spate of violent attacks across country, targeting public figures and security infrastructure. Notably, suspected SISF members overnight 4-5 Nov killed traditional chief, Prince Mahloma of Zandondo in Manzini region, reportedly after forcing him to record video urging King Mswati III to initiate democratic reforms; 14 Nov opened fired at Ludzidzini Royal Palace, Mswati’s residence in Lobamba city, Hhohho region, reportedly injuring one guard and forcing Mswati’s evacuation to another palace; and 29 Nov attacked Zibonele army camp in Hhohho region, killing unknown numbers of soldiers. Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists, transport trade union and Swaziland Youth Congress 15 Nov demonstrated in capital Mbabane (Hhohho) to demand release of legislators arrested in June-July 2021; heavy police presence and roadblocks impeded mobilisation, reportedly resulting in several protesters being shot or detained by security forces.
Crackdown on new wave of pro-democracy protests left several dead. Amid mounting student mobilisation to demand free schooling, end of absolute monarchy and release of pro-democracy MPs arrested in July, authorities late Sept-early Oct deployed police and military to several schools. In one incident, authorities reportedly fired live ammunition in Tikhuba High School (east) 8 Oct; local pro-democracy NGO Swaziland Solidarity Network also alleged 17 students including seven-year-old child arrested during protests 11 Oct. After police 13 Oct shot and killed bus driver during clashes with protesters demonstrating for better wages in Malkerns town (west), transportation workers joined wider pro-democracy protest movement, blocking several key roads across country; police next day shot and killed individual at roadblock in Mpaka town (centre east). Students 14 Oct stormed and burnt Shewula police station (north east), and govt 16 Oct closed schools indefinitely. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 18 Oct expressed concerns at excessive force and indefinite closure of schools. Security forces 20 Oct cracked down on protests in Mbabane (north west) and Manzini (centre) cities, reportedly killing one and injuring at least 80, including 30 by gunshot. Govt next day banned all protests and reportedly shut down social media platform Facebook. Southern African Development Community 21-22 Oct deployed high-level delegation to country in bid to defuse situation, 23 Oct said King Mswati III had agreed to hold national dialogue; banned opposition party People’s United Democratic Front and coalition of civil society groups and opposition parties Swaziland Multi-Stakeholders Forum immediately rejected move, describing it as “ploy to mislead” mediators.
Authorities blocked small-scale pro-democracy protests and deployed security forces across country to stifle students’ strikes. Army and police week of 6-12 Sept blocked pro-democracy protests across country; week of action coincided with country’s Independence Day 6 Sept; no major security incidents reported. Dozens of pro-democracy demonstrators 10 Sept gathered in front of UN office in executive capital Mbabane to demand end to absolute monarchy while representatives of Political Party Assembly – a coalition of five banned political parties – delivered petition to UN Resident Coordinator Nathalie Ndongo-Seh. Military 19 Sept reportedly cracked down on students striking over unpaid allowances and other grievances at William Pitcher College in Manzini city; troops used teargas, sticks and batons, leaving at least three injured. Communist Party of Swaziland 21 Sept condemned storming of campus as regime’s “desperate attempt to cling to power” and called for “establishment of people’s defence militia”. High school students in several regions late Sept reportedly joined university strikes, boycotting classes to demand political reforms and release of opposition activists, while govt allegedly deployed army and police to schools across country. High Court 14 Sept denied bail to pro-democracy MPs Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, in custody since 25 July on terrorism charges; trial due to start late Nov.
Tensions remained high in wake of anti-monarchy protests. After authorities late June quashed days of protests against King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, UN Human Rights Office 6 July urged authorities to “fully adhere to human rights principles in restoring calm”; Local NGO reports late July said violence had left over 70 dead and 150 injured since late June. Southern Africa’s regional bloc SADC 15-22 July deployed fact-finding mission to country; delegation met with civil society and church groups but not with main opposition force PUDEMO. King Mswati III 16 July appointed Cleopas Dlamini as new PM following death of predecessor Ambrose Dlamini in Dec 2020, called protests “satanic” in his first public address since June. Police same day fired tear gas and water cannon at anti-monarchy protesters who had gathered in Manzini city to denounce PM’s appointment, reportedly leaving eight injured; right to democratically elect PM has been a core demand of protest movement. Authorities 24-25 July arrested pro-democracy legislators Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube on terrorism-related charges.
Anti-monarchy protests turned violent, reportedly leaving scores dead. Protests against monarchy and for “multi-party democracy” 20 June erupted in Manzini region and in following days spread to other regions and turned increasingly violent. Govt reportedly deployed army to major cities amid reports of looting and security forces firing bullets and tear gas at protesters, notably in executive capital Mbabane 28-29 June; dozens reportedly killed and hundreds wounded by month’s end. Govt 29 June denied social media reports that King Mswati III had fled country; same day imposed nationwide dusk-till-dawn curfew and ordered internet blackout.
Security forces continued to clash with protesting civil servants. Civil servants protesting over salaries 2 Oct clashed with police in Manzini; clashes reportedly left over ten people injured including one trade union leader. Govt 2 Oct applied to industrial court in attempt to ban further strike action by National Public Service, Allied Workers Union and Swaziland National Association of Teachers, application pending end-month.
Civil servants went on strike nationwide 23-25 Sept to protest low pay and rising cost of living; police in capital Mbabane 25 Sept clashed with protesters using rubber bullets, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse them, reportedly leaving at least fifteen injured.
PM Dlamini 19 Oct announced intention to create law requiring newspaper journalists to seek permission before criticising govt.
Crackdown on civil society and media intensified as police 6 Sept arrested at least 50 people, day before planned protest against human rights abuses. Some 250 marched through Manzini 7 Sept, while 350 participated in pro-democracy march in capital 8 Sept; 2 leading activists, 1 unionist briefly detained. PM Barnabas Dlamini 9 Sept warned govt would consider using torture to crush dissent. SADC-CNGO 14 Sept expressed concern over regime’s repression of rights, political freedom.
Repression by King Mswati III’s regime against independent media and opposition under pretext of combating terrorism continued, largely unchallenged by international community. 2 suspected petrol bombers charged with terrorism and treason denied bail 6 Aug; claim to have been tortured into confessing. Police claim attacks masterminded by banned opposition Swaziland Youth Congress.
Govt used new anti-terror law to increase pressure on opposition, banning 4 opposition groups 14 Nov and arresting pro-democracy activist and Pudemo party head Mario Masuko 15 Nov over alleged involvement in bombings during country’s flawed Sept elections.
King Mswati III reappointed ally Barnabas Dlamini as PM, brother Guduza Dlamini as parliamentary speaker following Sept’s controversial parliamentary elections, which saw widespread protests against country’s absolute monarchy. PM’s swearing-in 10 Oct briefly halted after MP pledged allegiance to “Swazi nation”, in rebuke to King. International civil society conferences in Manzini opened 16 Oct after High Court ruled against govt ban on political meetings; King Mswati same day promised to “strangle” political dissidents.
Massive pro-democracy protests surrounded 19 Sept polls, accompanied by series of bombings. Over 10,000 marched 3-4 Sept in capital Mbabane and Manzini, calling for end to ban on political parties and abolition of monarchy. Police blocked roads, arrested several in 18 Sept demonstrations near South African border posts. Explosion near royal palace 21 Sept killed 2 suspected bombers; 2 smaller blasts reported in Mbabane 4 Sep. Govt blamed opposition People’s United Democratic Movement, dismissed scale of unrest.
Unions threatened further strikes, continued demands for 2008 elections under multiparty democracy. King Mswati III rejected criticism while Swazi courts considered union application to appoint South African mediator. Police shot dead opposition activist Ntokozo Ngozo 15 August; denied political motivation.
Thousands of striking public sector workers demanded multi-party democracy, March 2008 elections, bringing Manzini and Mbabane to standstill 25-26 July.
Tensions over new constitution highlighted by police clampdown on opposition party rally 9 August. Debate emerged over future of political parties, banned under old laws, as royalist Sive Siyinqaba cultural organisation formally declared itself party.
Major donor EU announced suspension of direct funding to pressure government to practice good governance and accountability.
Pro-democracy protesters blocked South African- Swazi border crossing; SA police arrested 20, later released on bail. King Mswati said constitution lifted ban on political parties but opposition groups claimed still blocked from power.
Police cracked down on opposition PUDEMO party rally, arresting several party leaders.
King Mswati III officially brought new constitution into effect 8 February; maintains monarchy’s absolute powers. Attacks on government targets continued with Mbabane police camp petrol-bombed. 1 of 16 members of banned PUDEMO opposition party charged with high treason pleaded guilty and confessed to planning attacks on government targets.
New constitution, maintaining absolute powers of King Mswati III, theoretically came into effect 26 January after statutory 6-month period after ratification; no official confirmation given. Arrests of pro-democracy campaigners continued. 16 members of banned People’s United Democratic Movement appeared in court on charges of high treason; seen as attempt to silence critics of monarchy.
Police arrested 13 members of Peoples United Democratic Movement in connection to arson attacks on government property; 12 subsequently charged with treason.
Government passed guidelines for NGOs, likely to improve response to HIV/AIDS and poverty. Arson attacks on government buildings continued.
Previously rejected 2002 Internal Security Act resubmitted to parliament following 30 September Mbabane arson attacks: opponents fear King Mswati III may use bill to stifle dissent. First political party member in 33 years won parliament seat. Government offered “talks about talks” to pro-democracy group protesting constitution.
Government warned pro-democracy activists that security forces would block planned October march to protest new constitution that concentrates power in King Mswati III. Police disrupted student march 8 September, seriously injuring 10.
King Mswati III signed new draft constitution into law 26 July, upholding ban on opposition political parties and cementing king’s absolute power.
Joint sitting of parliament approved first constitution since 1978; criticised by opposition as institutionalising royal rule; political party ban upheld.
Agriculture ministry predicted harvests would decline for 4th year running; one third of Swaziland’s population already rely on food aid. King Mswati III spent $1.7m on birthday celebrations.
Absolute monarch King Mswati III spent $820,000 on new cars for his 10 wives. World Food Programme said food insecurity worsening.
Unionised workers held 2-day general strike in Manzini to protest draft constitution being debated in parliament. Unions fear draft will further entrench power of monarchy. Swaziland, headed by King Mswati III, has world’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rate and is Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
Parliament opened 17 March after number of unexplained delays following October’s elections. King Mswati III forced elected speaker of House of Assembly to resign in dispute over king’s purchase of private jet. Swaziland now has world’s worst HIV infection rate, with UN saying 38.8% of adults infected.
State of emergency declared 18 February in response to AIDS crisis and widespread food shortages. UN agencies estimate 25% of population need food assistance, and 40% of adults HIV positive.
Presentation of new constitution, due 14 November, delayed for further review. Commonwealth team criticised October elections as largely devoid of meaning. King appointed friends and family to join elected members of assembly.
House of Assembly elections held 19 October. Elections marked by low voter turnout and boycott by pro- democracy groups. House only has advisory role to King Mswati III. Political parties are banned in Swaziland, and political gatherings prohibited.
King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, facing increasing opposition to his rule. Banned political party, PUDEMO, announced it would adopt more aggressive tactics to achieve political reform. Swaziland has been under state of emergency for over 30 years.
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