A little while back an #itchysilk writer wrote a piece regarding the unrest in Nigeria fuelled by an angry ‘youth’. In a similar vein eSwatini and its youth are voicing the need for change while their absolute monarch clings to power with a vice like grip. Let’s not forget that a person used to absolute power can become very dangerous when faced with the prospect that they may lose their power and the lucrative financial gain that comes with that power-casualties of that change are inevitable.
Leaving eSwatini (my home), a year, and a half ago, I’d never have thought that globally things would change so drastically. We are living in a collective state of madness, fuelled by news of the rapidly changing landscapes.
I’m not going to start with the usual facts of eSwatini that are simplified repeated verbatim by the international media. The journey for the kingdom from independence to this point and its interplay in-between the traditional mechanisms of governance, post colonialism and the modernising world. The subtleties of these dynamics run deep in the fabric of Swati society.
Osmosis is a biological function in cells that works to create an equilibrium of matter distribution. Through the functions of nature, matter flows through the walls of denser cells to those that are less dense. Evidently nature knows the importance of fair distribution: In the age of capitalism, osmosis of wealth is a foreign concept.
The obscene polarity of wealth has been exaggerated ten-fold with the crisis of covid. Certainly, in Africa that disparity between those with wealth and those without has been well documented but of course this growing divide is occurring globally. In my country, 70% of the population are living underneath 2$ a day, King Mswati III’s personal fortune is around 500$ million, not to mention his connections in all large enterprises, media, telecoms, and natural resources.
The royal family are caught in the consumerist trappings of the West with expensive tastes in clothing, jewelry, cars, palaces, and vacations. A lifestyle the princes and princesses have mostly erased from their Instagram accounts during the unrest.
Walking these sunny European streets there seems to be a collective covid amnesia with its scents of coffee, cigarettes, sunscreen in the warm weather. In the back of my mind however I imagine, an acrid scent of burning rubber, the stinging of tear gas. All the people around me seem indifferent. In any spare moment, I reply to messages of worry from friends and acquaintances asking about the situation back home. I scan the news, sometimes scrolling too far to see trauma I am not ready to see. The bloody realities, the gore, and absurdities of heavy-handed violence from the police and military.
The government has shut out any accountability, criticism, and meaningful dialogue. They have banned protests and the delivery of petitions, mostly asking for democratic reforms with the election of the prime minister. Since then three members of parliament who are pro-democracy have arrest warrants out or have been arrested for terrorism and violation of covid 19 rules. All political parties have long been banned and classified as terrorist organisations while the leaders of these parties that are at the forefront of the movement are being arrested.
In a long-awaited traditional address to the nation, King Mswati III said that all those that are against him are smoking too much ganja, which indeed is an illicit yet national crop. He is clearly detached from elements of reality fuelled by years of unquestioned rule. While his ‘subjects’ loudly declare the need for change, he states the ‘kingdom’ and its ‘subjects’ are ‘his property’ and that the nation must fundraise for the reparations of all the damage done. For good measure he placed a handpicked prime minister in power.
Meanwhile in the next town at a march boycotting the said national address the trigger-happy forces shot senselessly at anyone on the street. So far unofficially over 70 people have died and many more injured-the government figures for this atrocity are far lower.
International pressure is mounting, and the internal situation is still tense. Police are spot checking people’s social media feeds for evidence of pro-democracy posts or footage that could be shared. Note the government ordered the downing of the internet and social media for a week to limit the spreading of images, videos, and news.
There is no knowing what is going to happen next, but it is clear that the tension will undoubtedly lead to further problems. The majority youthful population and activists are dedicated to continuing the demands because there is little else, they can do. Things have come far in the past weeks and internationally news of the unrest is spreading fast. I can’t help but wonder about what home will be like when I return, or what the shape, colours and sounds of the future be.