By EDN Reporter
As emotions ran high and different sectors of the globe tried to petition the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Troika Summit held in Namibia to condemn Eswatini, Prime Minister Cleopas Sipho Dlamini told the gathering that the current situation is a sponsored form of terrorism.
In his address, the Prime Minister said the country was experiencing coordinated acts of terrorism and, in particular, the killing of security forces personnel on and off duty and traditional leaders.
“This campaign masquerades as an initiative that seeks democratic reform but the bare facts show that the intent, the actions and the outcomes are anything but democratic. They are designed to undermine trust in public institutions, instil fear amongst the general populace and create general disorder,” he said.
The Prime Minister added that the actions have been accompanied by demands for the Kingdom to abandon its Constitution in favour of an interim Government presumably consisting of unelected, self-appointed leaders of a variety of political organisations.
He said this was perpetrated through the use of force, coercion and intimidation. That is currently hindering the prospects for engagement within the provisions of the Constitution.
“EmaSwati have been killed or injured during this violence. Businesses have been burnt down. Private and public facilities, including schools, private homes, health facilities and police stations, amongst others, have been targeted and destroyed through arson attacks. Schoolchildren have been targeted to commit acts of violence against schools and teachers.”
“Many people have been killed, execution style, by the extremists, including the following: A chief was forced to make a statement recorded on video, which was published by an online publication ‘Solidarity Forces have arrived and they are demanding freedom’. He was then shot and killed. Two police officers who were manning a roadblock in broad daylight were accosted by armed men in a car, made to lie on the ground, and shot in the back of the head. Two other police officers, one male and one female, were drawn out of the duty station to respond to a false distress call, and were shot at when they arrived at the purported destination,” he said.
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The female officer died whilst the male survived. He further stated that there have been several other police officers who have been shot and killed, not only in the line of duty but also whilst off duty at their places of residence. Similarly, there are also soldiers and correctional service officers who have been shot and killed in similar circumstances.
The Prime Minister went on to say a leader of a breakaway political group was recently abducted from his home and later shot and killed. He further touched on some of the recent attacks including the shooting of an unarmed old man who was shot on his way to the cultural Incwala ceremony. He also spoke about the assassination of Human Rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.
“This was an unprovoked act, and he was shot because he was dressed in traditional regalia attending the Incwala ceremony. Last week, a prominent Human Rights lawyer, Mr Thulani Maseko, was gunned down in his home, causing international outrage. The proponents of the disinformation campaign on social media immediately sought to place the blame on the Government and its security forces without any evidence in this regard. Mr. Maseko was an advocate of dialogue and peaceful change, and the proponents of unconstitutional change would have had the most to gain from his death as he attracted international recognition. There are various theories that have been put forward on social media as to the motive for his murder, but I do not wish to enter into such speculation,” he said.
Since Maseko’s death, various sectors of the globe have pointed fingers at the government and His Majesty in a bid to pin the blame on them. The Prime Minister cautioned against this move. He said investigations into all these killings have been instituted, and the Government would leave no stone unturned in finding the perpetrators and bringing them and the criminals associated with them to justice.
“Not all proponents for change are in favour of violence, but it is abundantly clear that those advocating violence are extremely intolerant of any view that is not aligned with theirs,” he said.
Among the channels used to spread fear and instil fear in people have been social media and some media platforms that report false information and twist facts. The Prime Minister told the Summit that there has been a strong and well-coordinated social media disinformation and misinformation campaign against the Government of Eswatini.
“Throughout this campaign, there has been relentless disinformation and incitement to violence against the Government and all who do not support opposition ideologies. One example of this is the following chilling statement to the Judiciary: ‘we want to warn you for the last time. We are referring to investigation officers, prosecutors, magistrates, judges, Attorney General and others in the system. … If you think you are unreachable, be reminded that you have extended families, including out of Swaziland; we will thus reach you by any means necessary'”.
“As the crimes were being committed, details and video clips were forwarded to online publications so that their activities could be broadcast even as they were taking place. This is a major strategy for instilling fear amongst the people,” he said.
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The Prime Minister said in a bid to restore law and order and create an environment conducive to dialogue, the government has taken numerous steps, including going after the editor of Swaziland News, Zweli Martin Dlamini who has been at the centre of the violence perpetuated in the country. The government declared the editor and his publication as terrorist in July 2022.
“An online publication and its editor have been declared terrorist entities following their publication of these activities along with a campaign of disinformation, hate speech and inciting violence. Despite the danger to themselves and their families, security forces have continued to track down and apprehend these criminals. Weapons have been confiscated and a number of suspects have been arrested. In particular, two individuals alleged to have been linked to 38 attacks of this nature have been arrested and charged,” he said.
Despite all the efforts by the government, the perpetrators still find assistance and refuge in nearby countries, including South Africa.
The Prime Minister added that the current climate was not conducive to the dialogue.
“On the ground, there remains a volatile and intimidating atmosphere. People do not feel free to even express themselves by association, such as attending cultural events. Given the prevailing climate, it is doubtful that the outcome of a dialogue would be an accurate reflection of the aspirations of the majority. Formal Dialogue will take place when we can ensure the safety of all who wish to take part in the dialogue. All participants need to feel free to exercise their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association, regardless of their ideology in accordance with the provisions of our Constitution.”
“In the meantime, we shall continue to broaden back-channel engagements to bring an end to the violence, establish the modalities, and bring us closer to establishing a forum for constructive engagement. Eswatini should reserve the right to engage with partners that may assist the country in bringing about normalcy to the security situation. SADC should not be assuming an overbearing, peremptory role in a situation that is a threat to our national security,” the Prime Minister said.
He also gave the Summit a history lesson on how the country’s Constitution came about and the current system being used. He said the country has a legitimate Constitution that was enacted in 2005 with local and international support.
“This Constitution provides for separation of powers, guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of association and other fundamental civil liberties guaranteed under the Rule of Law. I would like to explain why this Constitution is important to us and why it is so important to defend it against foreign values being imposed on our Nation as this is a struggle we have waged before and after Independence. Permit me to narrate how a colonial constitution and system of government was imposed on us when we gained independence, and how, later, we were able to replace this with a Constitution of our choice that met the aspirations of our people and retained essential elements of the African culture and heritage. I would also like to point out that all this was accomplished through constructive dialogue,” he said.