Friday, February 2, 2018


A woman and her baby were held in a police cell overnight in Swaziland along with at least 10 other students who are saying they were beaten up by police.

The students from  Swaziland Christian University (SCU) had been arrested and detained for allegedly vandalising property and disturbing classes at Saim Christian High School on Wednesday (31 January 2018). They had been taking part in a protest march about unpaid allowances.

Fellow students protested at the magistrates court in Mbabane, the Swazi Observer reported (2 February 2018). It said, ‘The students are said to have been battered by the police and one of them sustained a tear on the left ear.

The newspaper reported Students Representative Council (SRC) president Thabani Mkhwanazi, ‘said they are saddened by the brutality they encounter at the hands of the police because they are passively portraying their frustration while police are armed with heavy guns and an aggressive approach to matters’.

It quoted him saying, ‘We have been exposed to too much brutality at the hands of the police and we demand answers on why they are this aggressive to defenceless students who are simply making known their grievances through a passive protest.’

The mother, who the newspaper did not name, was reportedly kept in a cell with her baby overnight. The newspaper called this ‘an unbelievable episode’.

Ntswaki Khumalo, a third year nursing student, who also spent the night in a police cell at Mbabane police station, told the newspaper they were arrested by police during the protest action and bundled into the back of a police van and sent to the police station. 

The newspaper reported, ‘Upon arrival, they were placed into holding cells where a contingent of about seven police officers allegedly came into where they were kept and started assaulting them.

‘She said at some point the police hit them with the back of an R4 rifle while they continued hitting them with open hands across the face. 

‘They said after the brutal lashing, their friends and colleagues arrived at the police station to see them and give them food they had bought but only to be told that they would not be allowed to see them as they would be provided with police food. 

‘Students said that the cell they were in had dirty blankets and reeked of urine and other disgusting things such that they now fear that the baby may have contracted some diseases as they were not even able to change its diapers. This, they said, was due to the fact that they were not allowed access to running water.’’

Deputy Chief Police Information and Communication Officer Assistant Superintendent Phindile Vilakati denied that students from SCU spent the night in jail with a baby. She could not confirm or deny allegations of police brutality and assault.

This was not the first run in between police and students at SCU. In September 2017 armed riot police broke up a peaceful vigil by students outside the Ministry of Education and Training when they were seeking to get their closed university reopened.

Armed police from the Operational Support Services Unit (OSSU) gave the students 10 minutes to disperse. The OSSU is known for its violence and the students led by executives of the university’s student representative council decided to march away.

SCU was closed in August 2017 following an investigation by the Swaziland Higher Education Council (SHEC). According to a 40-page report, SCU, a private university in a joint venture with the Swazi Government, did not have the required funding to continue. There were also issues among others about the suitability of learning resources such as the library and the relevance and quality of its courses.

The university which specialises in medical-related courses had an enrolment of 916 students in the past academic year

In 2015, when SCU was in financial crisis and could not pay salaries, the university blamed the Swazi Government for not giving it money it had promised.

In February 2015, it was reported that armed police raided the university’s campus after students boycotted classes. They were protesting about a shortage of lecturers and inadequate teaching facilities.

It was also separately reported that 25 female students from the university had been raped in the previous year. Students blamed the university for not providing them with secure accommodation.

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