The acting prime minister of eSwatini, Themba Masuku, will this week call on King Mswati III to open negotiations with opposition parties who have been outlawed since 1973.
Sources with knowledge of the diplomatic talks between eSwatini, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, and neighbouring South Africa say Masuku is open to negotiating with opposition parties on reforms.
During a media briefing earlier this week, Masuku said his government was open to talks with citizens and had created an email address for them to send their concerns and petitions.
Opposition parties have accused law enforcement agents of using lethal force.
Images of pro-democracy protesters marching in defiance of the country’s Covid-19 lockdown regulations and curfew have appeared in the international media. Images of men in military gear beating residents in their homes have led to an international outpouring of outrage.
The eSwatini government has denied using excessive force.
The people of eSwatini are calling for an end to the king’s absolute rule and for reforms.
Dissent over Mswati’s lavish lifestyle while citizens live in poverty has simmered for many years, with calls for a democratic state and the abolishment of the monarchy increasing.
He was crowned 35 years ago at the age of 18 and the parliament is considered to be toothless because Mswati has the power to dissolve it at will.
Parliamentary members are appointed by the king for two-thirds of the seats in the upper house and about 12% of those in the lower house.
The remaining seats are approved by chiefs who appear to exercise power on behalf of the king in their respective chiefdoms and can also contest the elections as individuals and not as representatives of political parties.
Until the early 2000s, the law deemed those with membership of outlawed opposition parties to be criminals.
Masuku’s push for dialogue comes after the South African government and its ruling ANC called for political talks between the “autocratic” ruler of eSwatini and opposition parties.
In a statement, the ANC chairperson for the international relations sub-committee, Lindiwe Zulu, called for the unbanning of opposition political and other parties in eSwatini, the release of political activists and participation in meaningful talks with opposition parties, citizens and trade unions to find a collective solution to the country’s socioeconomic difficulties.
“The use of security forces to quell political dissent and the failure to address legitimate civilian concerns complicates the conflict and adds fuel to the fire. Economic and political stability is further compromised,” Zulu said.
“We call on the government to heed this urgent call by moving away from autocracy, strong handed crisis management and brutal repression of legitimate civilian concerns. We further call on the SADC [Southern African Development Community] to be seized with this matter before it escalates beyond control.”
Her statement is said to have angered Mswati, who is said to be refusing to allow an intervention by South Africa.
But he relies on South Africa for imports and exports and is said to also be feeling pressure from countries in the West, which provide aid to the small kingdom.
The chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said he was closely following the situation in eSwatini and was deeply concerned by the ongoing political and security upheaval.
“The chairperson appeals to all national stakeholders to display leadership and engage in constructive dialogue towards the amicable resolution of issues in the national interest of peace and stability [in] eSwatini,” an AU statement read.
Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters has called for Pretoria to close down the diplomatic offices of Mswati as a form of protest and demonstration against what it called his order to brutalise and maim the struggling people of eSwatini.
The EFF’s Mpumalanga members went a step further when they forcefully shut down the Mananga border post in the Nkomazi municipality in solidarity with the people of eSwatini, the SABC reported.