Banks and stores were forced to close and mobile-phone services disrupted as violent pro-democracy protests prompted Africa’s last absolute monarchy to declare a curfew and send soldiers onto the streets.
Shoprite, the Johannesburg-based retailer, shut most of its shops in Eswatini, where demonstrations against King Mswati III’s rule have been the worst in years. Lenders, including the units of South Africa-based FirstRand, Nedbank and Standard Bank, closed branches and MTN Group, the biggest mobile operator, warned its services were cut.
“We are highly concerned about the malicious damage” to property that occurred during the protests, Shoprite said in an emailed statement Thursday. It has “disrupted the food supply chain in the country and puts the livelihood, lives and safety of others at risk,” it said.
The violence has escalated this week, prompting the state to announce a 6 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew. Martial law was declared nationwide, the US embassy in Eswatini said on its website Wednesday. A government spokesperson didn’t respond to an email seeking confirmation of that.
The government of neighbouring South Africa, whose border almost completely surrounds the kingdom, expressed concern about reports of loss of life and the destruction of property, and called on the security forces to exercise restraint.
Known as Swaziland until 2018, Eswatini has been led since 1986 by Mswati, who controls parliament and appoints ministers. The landlocked country of 1.3 million people is the last African nation that recognises Taiwan as independent, and an ally.
Earlier in the week, police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters demanding democracy in the country that has banned political parties since the early 1970s. The government denied reports that the king had fled the country.