June 2023 | Two pro-democracy MPs convicted of terrorism and murder
On 1 June, two MPs at the forefront of Eswatini’s pro-democracy movement, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, were convicted of terrorism and murder in the country’s High Court. The convictions, described by Amnesty International as ‘flawed’, relate to the MP’s participation in pro-democracy protests in 2021. These protests called for reform of Eswatini’s centralised system of government, under which it’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, enjoys considerable executive powers, including over the judiciary. Anti-terrorism legislation has frequently been used by the state to silence government critics and the charges brought against the MPs were widely perceived to be politically motivated. According to analysts, the convictions signal the king’s strong resistance to democratic reform and, because of his control of the electoral system, this is likely to make it more difficult than ever for pro-democracy candidates to be elected at the forthcoming parliamentary elections, that are scheduled for September 2023.
January 2023 | Influential human rights lawyer and democracy activist shot dead
In a development that could further destabilise Eswatini, human rights lawyer and democracy activist Thulani Maseko was shot dead in a suspected state assassination (an allegation the government denies). Since May 2021, the country has been gripped by a violent political crisis, which has pitted the county’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, against a coalition of political and civil society actors seeking the democratisation of Eswatini. Maseko was a highly influential advocate of a negotiated transition to democracy and commentators fear his death may undermine his cause within the increasingly militant pro-democracy coalition, making the peaceful resolution of the crisis less likely. In recent months, the crisis has descended into violent conflict, with pro-democracy extremists carrying out reprisal killings against the security agencies and Mswati allies in response to the continuing state-repression of protesters (which has included killings, abductions and torture).
November 2022 | Militant pro-democracy group carries out spate of violence in Eswatini
A spate of violent attacks carried out in November by the underground pro-democracy group, the Swaziland International Solidarity Forces (SISF), mark a further escalation in Eswatini’s increasingly violent political crisis, which has pitted the country’s repressive absolute monarch, King Mswati III, against a coalition of political and civil society activists seeking an end to his 35-year reign and reform of the Tinkhundla system of government (a form of local government through 55 constituencies) he oversees. According to local media, the SISF, which operates as the quasi-military wing of the more militant elements of this coalition, claimed responsibility for the execution of a traditional chief (thought to be a relative of the King), the killing of a police officer and an unspecified number of soldiers, and an attack on the home of a pro-Tinkhundla member of parliament. These incidents appear to be a part of a new wave of attacks that began in October 2022.