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Released on: October 20, 2021

Statement on events in eSwatini

The Campaign for Free Expression (CFE) is deeply concerned about the harsh repression of protest
and dissent in eSwatini, and calls on the South African and other governments and regional bodies to
take stronger action to prevent further destruction of property and killings.
The CFE this week publishes Dark Days in eSwatini, a major report on the suppression of protest and
the media in that country. “We hope to shine some light into eSwatini’s darkness and encourage
those with power and authority to follow that light by seeking to influence events,” said executive
director Anton Harber.
The report includes an eyewitness account of security forces snatching individuals off the street and
the pervasive fear felt by emaSwati in the wake of such abuses.
Veteran eSwatini editor and author Bheki Makhubu outlines the history and political events that led
to the recent protests, including King Mswati’s role in cutting off avenues of peaceful petition, and
the harshness of the security force response. He writes: “The people no longer feel as one with their
king, around whom their identity and being have, traditionally, always revolved. By all accounts,
neither does King Mswati III think much of his people. That symbiosis, cultivated over many
centuries between emaSwati and their king, seems to have disintegrated.”
Journalist Carien du Plessis describes the repressive legal system in eSwatini, and its impact on the
media and journalists. Although Mswati has never been a fan of a free media or the expression of
dissent, he has stepped up security force action against those who express views he does not like.
The conflict has claimed the lives of between 28 and 80 emaSwati – the former being the official
figure and the latter the figure given by opposition groupings, with names listed. The fact that we
PAGE 2
Board of Directors:
Prof Tawana Kupe, Carol Steinberg, Adriaan Basson, Dr Ismail Mohamed, Anton Harber (Executive Director)
cannot be sure of how many people have been killed, or their names, highlights the effect of the
media clampdown.
This week the security forces blocked a march in support of two MPs arrested and charged in
connection with the protests, who were due to appear in court. Schools were closed indefinitely. As
people take refuge from the rampant security forces, the capital, Mbabane, has become deserted.
The authorities have tried to suppress the news by cracking down on journalists and media. At an
early stage, they even shut down the internet to prevent information from spreading. Two South
African journalists, Magnificent Mndebele and Cebelihle Mabuyisa, were arrested and tortured; in
Dark Days in eSwatini they describe their terrifying ordeal.
Yet many of those who have influence over the authorities in eSwatini have hesitated to speak out
against the crackdown and press for reform. The African Union and the Southern African
Development Community (SADC), which have an obligation to take up such matters, have been slow
to do so. Pretoria did not react strongly to the torture of two South African journalists by the
security forces. Other governments with influence, such as those of the United States and United
Kingdom, have been largely silent.
CFE calls for concerted pressure from international bodies, governments, business and civil society
to convince Mswati to change direction; to allow his subjects to express themselves; and to heed
their demands for change. The alternative can only be more violence, ever-harsher repression and
further death and destruction.
_________________
For the full report, go to https://freeexpression.org.za/
To hear Makhubu and Du Plessis talk about the report, join the webinar with Daily Maverick on
Thursday October 21 at 12 noon. Register at https://bit.ly/eswatiniwebinar/
CFE is a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting and expanding the right to free expression
for all in southern Africa, and enabling everyone to exercise this right to the full. For more details,
see https://freeexpression.org.za/
Contact: Anton Harber, executive director: 083-3039497; anton@harber.co.za

Media statement

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