Police in Swaziland (eSwatini) fined a man who was out buying food for destitute children during the coronavirus lockdown.
He had to use some of the money that had been donated for food to pay the on-the-spot penalty.
Khulekani Msweli later wrote an open letter to Swazi Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku complaining about the police.
The Swazi Government, personally appointed by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland, has put the kingdom into lockdown. Travel is severely restricted, businesses closed and police are fining people they find on the streets without a ‘legitimate excuse’.
Masuku told the Swazi House of Assembly last week that more than 300,000 people in Swaziland from a population of 1.3 million needed food aid because they were without an income during the lockdown.
Msweli said he was on his way to buy foodstuff at Tshaneni to prepare meals for destitute residents of Vuvulane, organised by the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Outreach Foundation.
|The community of Vuvulane: Picture: Khulekani Msweli|
New travel restrictions imposed by Police Chief William Dlamini require people to have letters of permission to be travelling. Msweli said he tried to get one from a local leader but his office was closed.
He said he was stopped at a police road block and dragged from the car. He was travelling alone and wore a face mask as required by coronavirus (COVID-19) regulations.
He was taken to Tshaneni Police Station.
Msweli wrote, ‘Throughout that ordeal, I was consistently trying to explain to them that my shop visit was out of desperation to feed children that are at the brink of survival, but none of my pleas were adhered to.’ He said the police threatened to lock him up.
He added he broke down and pleaded with them to have mercy on those who depended on the food that he was going to buy.
‘To them, I was just as good as a criminal and deserved to be locked away for caring for others. The accusing policeman eventually fined me E60. I paid on the spot using money which was donated and meant to buy food for the neediest members of my community,’ Msweli wrote.
Msweli added, ‘The government cannot claim to be saving lives yet children might die of hunger not COVID-19. To criminalize, harass and humiliate those that are stepping in, where government is surely failing, is beyond belief. Is the government of eSwatini on a mission to kill all poor people?’
He added that he ‘fought back’ until he eventually bought all the food that was needed.
He told the Deputy Prime Minister, ‘The fact remains that the Government of eSwatini, through its police unit, has “stolen” an impoverished child’s E60, which was meant to buy their food. That E60 was meant to buy food that equates to at least two meals but two children were denied those meals.’
He added, ‘What must I tell the two children that will be without a meal, yet money was allocated to them? This whole week they were looking forward to their best and balanced meal, which other children received, but what will I tell them? What sense of hope must I offer them when the Police are punishing and “stealing” from the only people that seem to care about their welfare?’
He said, ‘As we are all doing our best to contain the spread of COVID-19, let us not find ourselves with a human rights catastrophe of hunger related deaths that could have been avoided.’
The Deputy Prime Minister later contacted Msweli to apologise. He said he had asked the National Police Commissioner William Dlamini to ‘deal with the matter’.
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