By Vatican News staff writer
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in recent days in Eswatini, in pro-democracy protests against the rule of Africa’s last absolute monarch, with reports of scores killed and many injured.
Anger against King Mswati III, who has ruled the Kingdom for more than 30 years as an absolute monarch, has been building over time. The rights groups accuse the royal family, including the King’s 15 wives, of living lavishly amid the increasing poverty of the population.
The demonstrators are also demanding democratic reforms in the land-locked nation, including lifting bans on opposition parties that have been outlawed since 1973.
Crackdown by authorities
The wave of protests in the country has been most felt in Mbabane, the capital, and other large cities where protesters have barricaded roads and set fires, often at businesses allegedly owned or linked to the royal family.
In a series of tweets last week, the Eswatini government said that Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, has assured the citizens and the international community that the protesters’ concerns are being addressed, and has further called for citizens to use alternative means to express their concerns.
However, reports from activists have alleged a government crackdown with some protesters shot and others injured. The Eswatini government has also suspended schools and imposed a nightly curfew from 6 pm to 5 am in a bid to quell the demonstrations.
Civil rights group, Amnesty International, reported at least 20 people killed by state security forces so far, with another 150 others hospitalized for injuries including gunshot wounds sustained from live ammunition fired by the police.
“We are urging authorities in Eswatini to end this escalating crackdown, and ensure that people can peacefully exercise their human rights including by allowing them to freely express their opinions without fear of violent retaliation,” the civil rights group said.
Pope Francis’ appeal
At the conclusion of the Angelus prayer on Sunday, Pope Francis prayed for the country highlighting the news of unrest and violence being reported.
He called on the authorities and those aspiring for the future of the country to work together towards “dialogue, reconciliation and a peaceful settlement” to differences.
Separately, in a statement on Friday, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León of Manzini - Eswatini’s lone Catholic diocese - called for calm amid the pro-democracy protests. As a way forward, he encouraged dialogue that seeks to accommodate a variety of viewpoints in line with Pope Francis’ Fratelli tutti Encyclical.
The bishop also appealed for the restoration of Internet services in the nation, noting that citizens “depend on the information being offered by foreign media” adding that the Internet will also “allow Churches, NGO’s, political organizations and other bodies to share their own calls for calm and dialogue” as well as provide essential support in this time of crisis.
Formerly known as Swaziland until 2018, Eswatini, a country in Southern Africa, is bordered by Mozambique and South Africa.
The country is undergoing struggles with economic difficulties with a large proportion of its 1.3 million population living below the poverty line.
King Mswati III has been in power since he was crowned in 1986 at the age of 18.