Mbabane – The King of Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, on Friday accused pro-democracy demonstrators of depriving children of education after they joined protests this month.
School students have been boycotting classes and staging low-key protests across the landlocked southern African kingdom, prompting the deployment of soldiers and police.
Children “have been deprived of their opportunity to education by these so called pro-democracy people”, said King Mswati III, addressing reporters after a hospital inauguration outside the capital Mbabane.
“It is wrong for thugs and drunkards to use them to achieve their ulterior and devilish motives,” he blasted.
The internet was throttled earlier on Friday as images of the protests circulated on social and traditional media, including pictures of two people who said they had been injured by gunshots fired by security forces.
King Mswati III has ruled Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, since 1986.
He owns shares in all of the country’s telecoms, and is criticised for living a lavish lifestyle in one of the world’s poorest countries.
He is also accused of stifling political parties.
Unions, opposition parties, student groups and private commuter bus operators have joined the latest protests over the past two weeks.
Protesters have also closed roads leading to all borders in the tiny, landlocked nation. Soldiers were seen on the streets in main cities.
The United Nations has expressed concern about the unrest, particularly over the involvement of youth and school children.
The latest demonstrations have mainly called for the release of two lawmakers arrested during pro-democracy protests earlier this year.
Civil society and opposition groups took to the streets in the largest cities Manzini and Mbabane in June, looting shops and ransacking business properties.
At least 28 people died as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history. The latest fatality came Wednesday.
At the root of all the protesters’ demands is an insistence on democratic reform.
“The ostrich mentality by the dictatorship is shameful to say the least,” said Wonder Mkhonza, general secretary of the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland.
“The ruling elites are hell-bent on taking the whole country down with them and they will pay for their actions,” he told AFP.
Picture: Getty Images