PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTS QUELLED IN ESWATINI
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Manqoba Khumalo extended condolences to the families of 27 people who were killed in the recent pro-democracy protests. Opposition and human rights groups claim the number of dead is closer to 60. Demonstrations first erupted in May following the death of a 25-year-old law student, allegedly at the hands of police, but have since focused on demands for political reform in the country – Africa’s last absolute monarchy (King Mswati III has been in power since 1986). From 28 June, the protests intensified, prompting the deployment of the military. According to the government, in addition to the lives lost, around three billion lilangeni ($210 million) of business assets were lost through arson and looting, while an estimated 5,000 people lost their livelihoods. The protesters reportedly targeted some of the businesses linked to the king who critics accuse of living lavishly, along with his 15 wives, while almost 60% of the population of 1.3 million people live in poverty. These pro-democracy protests have allegedly been met with police brutality and deadly force from security forces, and according to residents on the ground who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch, some protesters have responded with violence. The government blamed “foreign elements” for whipping up the violence, mentioning specifically South Africa’s leftist opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party. The country ranks very poorly in global ratings on political rights and civil liberties, with Freedom House considering it, “not free.”
From a Christian perspective, the small kingdom of eSwatini has been exposed to the gospel since the early 1800s when King Mswati II invited Methodist Christian missionaries to his kingdom in 1825. However, despite almost 90% of the population professing Christianity, some sources indicate that almost half of these follow a syncretistic faith – one mixed with traditional animistic beliefs. Neville Curle, in his thesis, “A Biblical Critique of the Veneration of Ancestors and the use of Magic as Practised in the Kingdom of eSwatini,” investigated the roles of God, the ancestors, their mediators (the sangomas), and His Majesty Mswati III in the lives of the people of eSwatini from a biblical perspective, and found that: “Cultural beliefs and practices which are in conflict with biblical teaching, have found their way into the broader Church.” Such beliefs include the role of the King, where His Majesty Mswati III is the acknowledged ‘Chief Priest’ of the Zionist Church in Swaziland, as well as the nation’s ‘Ritual Scapegoat,’ and thus it is difficult for the Church to speak prophetically into any situation that involves the ancestors, the role of the king, etc. Perhaps the recent protest and shaking within the kingdom will allow an opportunity for believers to speak truth and life into their situation. One Christian worker inside eSwatini explained how the recent events left them all in quite a state of shock as nothing quite like this had happened before. This same contact expressed a deep appreciation for all the prayers that were prayed for the nation during the height of the violence and for the Lord’s intervention in bringing some calm again. However, they ask that we pray for a peaceful resolution to unfold and that the problems are not simply swept under the carpet.
Please pray with us for the following:
- For the King of eSwatini to meet the King of kings and surrender to His will for his nation
- For those in authority to acknowledge the needs and cries of their people
- For Swazi believers to be wise and discerning and to approach the spiritual battle with the ‘spiritual weapons’ at their disposal (Ephesians 6:12-17)
Image: The African Report