“These people started the violence first but when the state institutes a crackdown on them for their actions, they make a lot of noise blaming King Mswati for bringing in mercenaries”, these were the words uttered by the King of Eswatini while addressing regiments on the 21st of January 2023 at Engabezweni Royal Residence after the Incwala ceremony.

King Mswati III is famously known for being Africa’s last absolute monarch. The king is not only the head of state but also holds Executive, Judicial and Legislative powers in the country, and also serves as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Since the June massacre of 2021 the Kingdom of Eswatini has been on the verge of civil war due to the calls for democracy within the country. The dialogue proposed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and promised by the king has been postponed since the end of the Incwala ceremony in 2022. Even with so many consecutive postponements the Eswatini Government still insists on their commitment to hold the national dialogue. “Government notes the need for national dialogue involving all EmaSwati. We reiterate government’s commitment to holding a peaceful, open, and fair national dialogue. Whilst noting the need to hold a national dialogue as soon as possible, however, with the continued spate of violent killings and arson attacks against innocent people the government is forced to consider the safety of the people first. The country’s leadership is working towards the restoration of law and order as we pave the way to a peaceful and open national dialogue.” said The Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Themba Masuku.

However, most people in the country believe the lack or postponements of the national dialogue are the root cause of the violence that has been plaguing the small land-locked country, and that further delays would only lead to more bloodshed. Most notably among the victims of the political unrest are 11 police officers and an undisclosed number of political activists and freedom fighters. The deaths of the police officers have been accredited to members of the pro-democracy underground forces that have identified themselves as the Swaziland International Solidarity Forces (SISF). However, the deaths of the political activists and freedom fighters are alleged to be perpetrated by the king and his government through state hired mercenaries, the army and the police. It is a widely spread claim that the king has been delaying the political dialogue with the hope that he would eliminate dissention by killing political leaders who are calling for democratic reforms.

Chief among the leaders alleged to be assassinated on instruction of the king by mercenaries is human rights lawyer and political activist Thulani Maseko, who at the time of his death was Chairperson of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum. Maseko was regarded as a uniting figure of the Swazi struggle for democracy and a champion for human rights on the continent. He was gunned down in front of his wife Tanele Maseko and children Nkosenhle (10) and Nkosivile (6) at his home in Luyengo. His death happened not more than six hours after King Mswati’s Incwala speech, where he threatened that those causing instability in the country will be dealt with, leading many to question the king’s involvement in the brutal murder of Thulani Maseko.

The Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Themba Masuku however, denied claims of mercenaries hired to kill political activists and other citizens. Addressing a press conference in Mbabane on the 26th of January 2023, regarding the death of Thulani Maseko, the DPM stated that “Government has noted with concern that there are individuals and organisations that are intent on spreading disinformation. These unfounded allegations of state sponsored killings and use of mercenaries are not true and are part of a campaign designed to promote hatred and disorder and thrive on distortion of information to fit a particular narrative. Government has not hired any mercenaries. However, there are security experts that have been engaged to assist with certain aspects of the country’s security issues.”  

One of these security experts is the man alleged by Swaziland News to be the leader of the mercenaries responsible for the death and disappearance of political activists, founder of Bastion Security, Arno Pienaar. A man who served in the South African army during the apartheid era and later worked in Iraq, speaking to the Sunday Times Pienaar confirmed that his firm has a security agreement with the king but denied any involvement with the alleged assassinations, stating that his firm only deals with training. “I could see that the security forces were totally untrained for the job of dealing with terrorists,” he said, and further stated that there are no freedom fighters in Eswatini, only terrorists. Pertaining to Maseko’s death Pienaar blamed the power struggle within the democracy movement “I have worked all over Africa, that’s how it works here. There is always in-fighting. There was no reason to kill him, he was not on our list of terrorists.” He said, however he did not care to elaborate how and why a security firm hired to train law enforcement would possess a list of terrorist.   

Human rights activist and writer for the Daily Maverick Mark Heywood nevertheless refutes the notion that there are terrorists in the country. Speaking to NewsRoom Afrika TV Heywood stated that “There’s no terrorism agenda in Eswatini, there’s an agenda for democracy and for human rights. There are no terrorists in Eswatini, there are activists, and the activists are being killed at the instruction of King Mswati III and members of his government who are seeking to protect their extreme wealth. Mswati is one of the richest men in the world, in one of the poorest countries in the world. The people of Swaziland are fed-up, they want a decent life, they have been protesting for democracy. Just over a year ago on June 29th, 2021, in those protests, more than a hundred people were gunned down by the Swaziland police and defence forces. As you and I speak today, there are two Members of Parliament (MPs) in Swaziland who are in prison, Members of Parliament, just because they were supporting the democracy movement in that country. So that is what Mswati calls terrorism.”

No matter how Mswati and his cohorts twist and turn the facts of what is happening to political activists in Eswatini, the truth shall not be buried for ever, there will come a time when the tables will turn and the king will be publicly exposed for who and what he is – a murder, an oppressor, a dictator and a genocidal maniac. The activists in the diaspora including us at Swazi Vigil UK, we say “Aluta Continua…” we will not stop protesting against the violation of human right in Eswatini and against the murderous activities of King Mswati… we say “Phansi ngaMswati phansi!!!!” (Down with the Mswati). Viva Swazi Vigil Viva!!!!!