The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), South Africa’s third-largest political party, has organised peaceful protests along the country’s borders in the KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces with the neighbouring Eswatini.
Tuesday’s protests, the EFF said, were part of renewed efforts to raise awareness about “ongoing repression against pro-democracy protests in Eswatini”.
EFF spokesman Sinawo Tambo told Al Jazeera, “We closed the borders to show [King] Mswati that borders are merely fences and that if the EFF and many South Africans resolve to pledge our concrete solidarity with the people of Eswatini, we would flood the borders which separate us and deliver freedom to our people.”
King Mswati III, who came to power at the age of 18 in 1986, has ruled Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, for 36 years.
Since May 2021, the Southern African country has been plagued by civil unrest and violent demonstrations against its ruler following reports that a 25-year-old law student, Thabani Nkomonye, had been killed by the kingdom’s police.
And the show of support by the South Africans is being applauded by their neighbours.
“We appreciate the solidarity shown by the EFF,” said Lungelo Dube, a human rights activist from Eswatini. “It sends a strong message of our rejection of the current regime to the international community.”
“The people of Swaziland can not breathe,” he continued. “We want accountability, we want the lives of our people to matter. We want the quality of life to increase for our people. Democracy is long overdue.”
Activists have accused the regime of serious human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances.
According to a 2021 Amnesty International report, at least 1,000 pro-democracy protesters have been arbitrarily jailed, 80 have been murdered, and more than 200 others were hospitalised since Nkomonye’s death.
The EFF claimed that the alleged repression against dissenters is aided by the lack of a democratic process in the country.
“The regime has murdered people for demanding a share of the wealth of the country, and demanding democratic rights,” it said. “We believe that it is the absence of democratic safeguards and processes that encourage Mswati’s impunity.”
The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), the largest opposition party in Eswatini, joined the protest alongside the EFF.
“The protest today is important and we appreciate the international solidarity shown by the EFF,” said Mlungisi Makhanya, the president of PUDEMO. “We are fighting for a humane, just and egalitarian society, where the means of production belong to the people, not individuals.”
“King Mswati owns most of the economic wealth in Eswatini, directly and indirectly,” he added. “Citizens are excluded and do not have access to decent housing, decent education and decent healthcare – this has to change now.”
Following a meeting between South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was deployed by SADC at the time, and King Mswati III, the king agreed to form a national dialogue forum in November 2021.
According to a statement released by the presidency, the purpose of the forum would be to “take into account and incorporate structures and processes enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini, including the role of the Parliament of the Kingdom, and the Sibaya convened by His Majesty King Mswati III”.
But till date, the forum has not been established.
The EFF maintains it will continue to demand political reform. “This was only the beginning, we will be going forward with other actions that have a major impact on the pockets of the king,” said Tambo. “We also continue to draw support from the international community on behalf of our people and encourage sanctions to end this dictatorship.”