Are the days numbered for Africa’s last absolute monarch?
The following is a lightly edited transcription from The Punch Out with Eugene Puryear, a daily news podcast that comes out Monday through Friday, 5pm ET. Subscribe here.
Large protests have again rocked Swaziland, now demanding jobs and free education for all, as a continuation of the mass movement that has been sweeping the nation since the summer. Since May of this year, over 100 people have been killed by regime forces and hundreds of others have been seriously injured as the absolute monarchy of King Mswati III has attempted to hold back the movement’s momentum.
Students in particular have been at the forefront of the struggle for the past month. On Monday, students from 40 primary and high schools across the country took to the streets, and their protests were met with bullets. One student was shot in the leg and 10 were arrested. The students were demanding the immediate release of political prisoners, democracy, better learning conditions, as well as free education, among other demands.
The military and the police have been deployed all across the country this week in order to quell the students' protests. This appears to have failed, as videos emerged this morning of students continuing to oppose the regime on the streets. In at least one city today, Manzini, strikes of transport workers shut down the city as those workers joined protests.
College students have also joined, raising particular injustices related to fees for housing that they never were able to use due to schools being closed for COVID.
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The mass movement, which has sprung up under the moniker of “Democracy Now” is the greatest challenge to the absolute monarchy since it was formed 50 some odd years ago. The King is a neocolonial puppet of major corporate interests from the U.S., Taiwan and other places. He controls almost the entire economy himself and appropriates most of the wealth.
Taiwan is a major player in the economy, using the neo-colonial American free-trade law African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to set up sweatshops that masquerade as “African-owned” businesses and are able to export goods to the U.S. tariff-free. They have provided millions of dollars to prop up King Mswati this year after he was rumored to have fled as mass protests trashed businesses owned by him and his cronies.
Seventy percent of the population lives in poverty, healthcare is massively underfunded, and education is extremely expensive. Despite these obvious deprivations, the King is well known for ostentatious displays of wealth from his private jets and fleets of Rolls Royces. Swaziland is actually officially ranked as the most unequal country on earth.
The situation is very fluid but it seems to be growing out of the control of security forces who have not been able to quell the protests after months. The photos and videos emerging from Swaziland are reminiscent of the township struggles of 1980s South Africa where the masses clearly showed they were ungovernable by apartheid forces.
It is certainly possible that the days of the last Absolute Monarch on the continent are numbered.