Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, shut schools indefinitely as pro-democracy protests intensified.
Lessons are suspended with immediate effect, Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini said in a statement. The unrest comes less than four months after police and the army acted to crush similar widespread demonstrations in the kingdom.
The pro-democracy protests have escalated in recent weeks with pupils and public-transport workers joining the calls for change. King Mswati, 53, who’s ruled the South African neighbor for more than 35 years, has dismissed the demands and rights groups have accused his security forces of abuses, including killings and beatings.
“Despite the violent crackdown that we saw in June-July, the young people of Eswatini have come back and are persistent about their demands,” Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said by phone from London. “This is an indicator that the king is in an increasingly weaker position because he has not been able to make the protests go away.”
Two members of parliament who’ve been at the forefront of calls for democracy and who were arrested in July on terrorism charges are due to appear in court for a bail hearing on Tuesday, the Eswatini Observer reported.
The government called for an end to attacks targeting businesses, many of them linked to Mswati.
“There is no room for such anarchy in our society,” Commerce Minister Manqoba Khumalo said in a statement Monday. “As His Majesty King Mswati III has communicated a number of times, dialog will be initiated with all emaSwati to find an allied solution to our political future.”
The communications ministry didn’t immediately respond to calls and an email seeking comment on the claims of abuses.
Known as Swaziland until 2018, the landlocked country of 1.2 million people is less than half the size of Switzerland and produces sugar and concentrates for beverages like Coca Cola. It’s also the last African nation that recognizes Taiwan as independent.