from SAMBULO DLAMINI in Mbabane, Eswatini
MBABANE, (CAJ News) – UNIVERSITY authorities can blame unforeseen circumstances for the postponement of the annual graduation ceremony at the University of Eswatini (UNESWA).
Yet they ought to have seen this coming.
King Mswati III and students have not been seeing eye to eye since the beginning of the worst political unrest in the Southern African country last year.
Only that it has now assumed a literal dimension.
The graduation ceremony was scheduled for this weekend but has been halted as the unrest in the Kingdom escalates.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances, the graduation ceremony has been postponed from Saturday, 8th October, 2022 to a future date to be announced,” reads the memorandum by Dr Salebona Simelane, UNESWA Registrar.
That “future date” apparently is not anywhere on the horizon.
Mswati III is the Chancellor of this volatile varsity that for months has resembled a warzone than an institution of higher learning.
By postponing the graduation ceremony, authorities have therefore curbed a potentially explosive situation. The king was not welcome.
This comes at a time students have been protesting over insufficient scholarships.
Ahead of the ceremony, the graduation arena was vandalised.
While students were obviously chief suspects of the destruction this week, some reports suggest unknown outsiders breached the security and turned the facility upside down.
It is said this mysterious group was armed with sticks and stones.
Police sources confirmed the arrest of four men.
In some areas, there is graffiti on some walls denouncing the monarch.
“Mswati Must Fall” is the most prominent one at this university of more than 7 600 students enrolled.
Thus, the writing is on the wall!
“We cannot have someone presiding over a government that is murdering students capping us,” said a student at the main Kwaluseni campus centre-west of the country.
The campus in the Manzini, the largest city in Eswatini, has been restless ever since the onset of the protests in May last year.
In fact, protests ongoing in Eswatini started after police allegedly murdered law student, Thabane Nkomonye, who was a student at this university.
The body of the 25-year-old, who was not an activist, was found outside Manzini.
Police claimed he died in an accident but students are convinced he was yet another victim of brutality by the maligned Royal Eswatini Police Service, blamed for the repression that has reinforced Mswati II’s repressive regime.
An unspecified number of students have been killed, abducted and tortured during a standoff with law enforcement.
Universities and schools have at times been forced to close because of the protests.
Even education at some high schools around the country has sometimes come to a standstill as scholars protest in solidarity with the tertiary counterparts.
The protests have morphed into the worst civil unrest in Eswatini, where the broader society has also made the most of the situation to protest repression and demand democratic reforms.
In Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, political parties are banned, dating back to the 1970s when King Sobhuza II, now late. Mswati III has ruled since 1986, aged 18.
Some opposition activists have been jailed.
Late last month, it emerged legislators Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube were tortured in custody.
“We encourage all emaSwati in all sectors to rise and disown this senseless regime and demand the release of the MPs immediately,” Thantaza Silolo, spokesperson of the Swaziland Liberation Movement (SWALIMO), stated.
A number of police officers have been killed in what is believed to be reprisal attacks. State institutions have been bombed. Arsonists have petrol-bombed even primary schools.
“Government condemns in the strongest possible terms the ongoing senseless attacks on members of the country’s security forces,” said Alpheous Nxumalo, government spokesperson recently.
Nxumalo said the insecurity was derailing national dialogue.
Some critics allege government practices double standards.
“Why does government issue a statement when the security forces are shot but is silent when forces kill unarmed citizens?” queried Linda Dlamini.
For now, nothing has come out of the domestic dialogue. Rather, the gulf between the Mswati III regime and pro-democracy activists has widened.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc has also been dithering on the Eswatini crisis.
Twice this year, summits specifically scheduled to discuss Eswatini were cancelled because Mswati III was “not available.”
SADC’s last summit, held in the Democratic Republic of Congo in August, was a routine conference of heads of state and government
Mswati III attended.
The 16-member SADC pledged to convene an “Extra-ordinary Summit of the Organ Troika plus Eswatini.”
A date is still to be determined.
– CAJ News