Five students appeared in court in Swaziland (eSwatini) following anti-police protests that turned violent.
Three were remanded to a maximum security prison and two were granted bail prior to a trail at the Swazi High Court.
They were arrested on Friday (21 May 2021) before a memorial service for Thabani Nkomonye, a 25-year-old law student.
Nkomonye died in suspicious circumstances and there is widespread feeling in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch that he was killed by police.
The five arrested were Bongumenzi Gamedze, Hlengiwe Magagula, Khumbulani Nxumalo, Siphosethu Mavimbela and the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) Secretary General, Bafanabakhe Sacolo.
They were charged with various offences, including malicious damage and vandalism. The police post at Fairview was badly damaged.
According to local media reports police fired teargas and rubber bullets at the memorial service on Friday.
The Swazi Government had banned large gatherings, saying they broke restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus crisis.
Nombulelo Motsa, President of the Economic Freedom Fighters of Swaziland told Swati Newsweek, ‘We protested in Manzini City demanding justice for Thabani Nkomonye. However police dispersed us at Manzini. We left for the memorial at St Paul’s High School. The police followed us and dispersed us. They fired rubber bullets and teargas at the mourners.’
The Swaziland News reported, ‘Information gathered suggests that the protesters arrived at the police post armed with stones and vandalized the post, two officers allegedly tried in vain to stop them after firing shots in the air.’
The eSwatini Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported ‘dozens had to be rushed to hospital’ after police ‘fired teargas canisters and gunshots at mourners’.
Reporting from the memorial service, the Observer said, ‘What at first started off as a peaceful service, with every other speaker commending how well behaved the youth was during the service, but until the police arrived, all hell broke loose. Seeing the police armoured vehicles making their way through the gate to the sports ground, there was shouting from a section amongst the attendees, demanding that the men in blue make a return as they were not welcome.
‘It seemed the police had one thing in mind – to hurt and make everyone cry. And that was achieved. Teargas canisters were directly shot where the masses were seated, as they bulldozed their way through the gate in their armoured paramilitary police vehicles. What followed was a stampede as mourners ran in all directions with teary eyes from the teargas.
‘The police were not fazed even by the wailing of elderly women and children, who had come to attend the memorial service. The elderly and the weak were trodden upon as a result of the stampede, while others collapsed as they suffocated from the teargas smoke. It was like a replay of the South African movie depicting the treatment suffered by black people during the apartheid regime.
‘The angry youth retaliated with stones. Cars that were parked by the entrance to the sports ground, from where the police were firing shots at first, were left damaged with windows shattered as the angry students fought back.
‘In a sheer act of force display, the police bulldozed their way into the stadium as they continued firing teargas canisters. At this point, some young women were already injured and crying hysterically and couldn’t breathe. The police gave chase as everyone escaped for dear life. The stadium was filled with white smoke, chairs and tables were left upside down. Seeing that their mission had been achieved, the police from the paramilitary wing, OSSU, withdrew and everyone was left worried sick about the injured and collapsed mourners.
‘The sounds of crying women echoed throughout the Fairview community, as others thought the collapsed had died. While people were being rushed in different cars to hospital, others came from corners and bushes, where they had sought refuge in search of water or any tap in sight from the nearby houses.’
Swaziland P. M. tells police to halt public demonstrations as anger spreads following suspicious death