Security forces and protesters clashed in two towns on Wednesday during a week of planned protests demanding an end to Swaziland’s absolute monarchy.
About 1 000 university students started pelting security forces with stones, who reacted by firing teargas and beating demonstrators in the capital Mbabane.
In the eastern town of Sitheke, trade union leaders said police fired rubber bullets and teargas at unarmed and peaceful protesters.
Zingiswa Losi, deputy president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, was among three people arrested in the town, said Sibongile Mazibuko, head of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.
“When Cosatu representatives got up to speak, police gathered to remove them. The crowd tried to protect them. There were gunshots [of rubber bullets], teargas. I think they are being taken back to their country,” said Mazibuko, whose teachers’ union is a driving force behind the Swazi protests.
She was speaking by telephone from Sitheki, one of the towns where a coalition of pro-democracy groups was staging a third consecutive day of protests against Swazi King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.
Police declined to comment on the arrests.
Swaziland is in a financial crisis fuelled by corruption and declining customs revenue that has led to widespread shortages of medication.
The government is freezing civil servant salaries and cutting other costs, including student allowances.
Mswati III has ruled the nation of about 1.2-million since 1986.
South Africa last month agreed to give Swaziland a R2.4-billion loan contingent on economic and political reform. It was roundly criticised.
“The South African government has sent less that R20-million to help those starving in the Horn of Africa and yet it is willing to grant a R2.4-billion loan to Swaziland’s corrupt regime,” complained the South Africa-based Swaziland Democracy Campaign. “This loan will only sustain an unsustainable system and perpetuate the continued oppression and suffering of the people of Swaziland.”
Protesters are demanding, among other things, the unbanning of political parties and trade unions, elections to create a democratic multiparty state and a free media. – Sapa-AP, Sapa