from SAMBULO DLAMINI in Mbabane, Eswatini
MBABANE, (CAJ News) – A REVOLT by police officers in Eswatini is a fatal development highlighting the worsening crisis in Africa’s last absolute monarch, characterised by bloodshed in recent months.
It represents the first act resistance by the inner circle in the administration led by King Mswati III (54).
For years, the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) has been accused as one of the pillars of the king’s reign, which began in 1986 when he was a teenager.
Their role as enforcers of Mswati III increasingly firm iron fist has been evident in recent months as the king faces his biggest threat to power in the form of protests by citizens demanding reforms and greater freedoms.
Scores of protesters have been killed, injured or kidnapped.
As the economic situation worsens, however, junior police officers have been on a strike in recent days, in what is seen as a show of defiance to the powerful king who acts as the Commissioner-in-Chief of the Police.
The Police Commissioner reports to him. William Tsintsibala Dlamini is current Police Commissioner.
Junior officers, who are now at loggerheads with their seniors, have been on strike demanding better salaries and improved working conditions.
In another incident seen as an embarrassment to Mswati III, the aggrieved officers, under the Police Staff Association, have committed to putting an end to the violence and atrocities meted on members of the public, particularly the working class and the students during ongoing upheaval.
Things have taken a tragic turn lately.
Last week, two police officers who were on duty while others attempted to go and protest at Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini’s office in the capital Mbabane were found dead.
They were killed in Manzini, the country’s largest urban centre.
It is not known who killed the pair but it is suspected those agitating for the strike were behind the murder.
Seargent Dumsile Khumalo, Police Staff Association Secretary General, who led junior police officers’ protest to the Prime Minister’s Office, was arrested last Friday.
The Mbabane Magistrates Court has slapped her with charges of violating the Police Act and Public Order Act.
The state has reportedly confiscated fire arms from some of the police in fear of the situation deteriorating.
Meanwhile, fire fighters have recently picketed, demanding their overtime allowances. Police resorted to fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse them.
The National Economic Movement (NEM), which is advocating for political freedom and human rights for eSwatini citizens, is concerned that while the situation in the country is deteriorating, the king was painting a picture on the contrary.
“The talk that eSwatini is at peace is just bluffing the world by king Mswati III. Series of protests are common in the country. Even police held their protest,” the organisation stated.
NEM has warned that the march by police to deliver petition at Prime Minister and cabinet offices in Mbabane was “an omen for a possible military mutiny in near future.”
Slotarnet Dube, the human rights and social activist, concurred, “There is an imminent political turmoil as law enforcements are at loggerheads.”
Prime Minister Dlamini denounced the killing of the two police officers in Manzini as terrorism, which the emaSwati must unite and stand up against.
“We cannot allow the senseless killings of innocent emaSwati to continue unabated,” the premier said.
Earlier, he assured Parliament that government was addressing the issue of salary restructuring for junior state security officers.
The Prime Minister said the volatility was a hindrance to the dialogue aimed at resolving the crises in the country.
“Such acts occur amidst calls for a national dialogue and that does not enhance a conducive environment for a free and fair all-inclusive dialogue,” Dlamini said at the House of Assembly.
The former Swaziland, a country of over 1,1 million people, is experiencing its worst unrest since self-rule attained from Britain 54 years ago.
The current crisis surpasses the anti-government protests of 2018 when the Trade Union Congress of Eswatini organised a strike for salary increases.
The three-day strike resulted in widespread disruption.
The current unrest started in June 2021 as a consequence of anger towards the lack of meaningful reforms that activists and the banned opposition parties are advocating for, with the aim to usher in democracy in this landlocked nation.
– CAJ News