The trade union leader who was shot in the back with a rubber bullet at close range by police in Swaziland /eSwatini during what was until then a peaceful strike has told how he put his hands up and pleaded at the officer not to shoot.
Dumisani Nkuna, Secretary General of the Manzini Branch of the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU), was a marshal at a march in Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city, on Wednesday (2 October 2019).
About 8,000 people marched through the city as part of a public servants’ strike for an increase in cost-of-living salary payments.
Nkuna told the Times of eSwatini (formerly Times of Swaziland), the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, ‘I raised my hands and shouted; “Please do not shoot. I am a marshal”’.
From his hospital bed he told the newspaper he had been working with police to control the march which had begun to get unruly. He ran away with other demonstrators when police fired teargas. Armed police followed them.
He said after he raised his hands the police were very close to him. ‘He saw one of them aiming to shoot towards him, and he decided to take it to his heels,” the Times reported.
It quoted him saying, ‘It was then that they shot me in the back. I fell down the slight slope and crawled towards the main road near Mzimnene River where I was assisted to get into a car and was rushed to hospital.’
‘I thank God for making a quick decision to run again because if I had delayed for a few minutes, maybe the rubber bullets would have pierced through my stomach and I do not know what would have happened,’ he said.
He was taken to Raleigh Fitkin Memorial (RFM) Hospital where two pieces of the rubber bullets were removed. It had previously been reported by media in Swaziland that he was shot with a live bullet.
The Times also interviewed Fikile Nhlabatsi, who was not part of the protest and works for an insurance company, who said she was shot four times at close range. She was hit by two rubber bullets in the right hand and two of her fingers were fractured.
She was returning to her place of work when she saw people running and a police armoured vehicle. When she heard live gunshots she hid in a hedge.
She said she was ‘gripped by fear’ and lay face down and covered her face with her hands.
‘I heard two shots hitting the hedge right next to me and thereafter two rubber bullets hit my right hand,’ she said. When the firing died down she was taken to a local health centre and then to RFM where she was admitted.
Another victim of the police rubber bullets was Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) member Londiwe Mdlovu who was shot with a rubber bullet in her left arm.
She told the Times she was running away with two other marchers from the police when they fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters at them. They escaped and were walking to a KFC fast-food restaurant when a group of armed police officers alighted from a speeding armoured vehicle and fired rubber bullets at them. The officers then jumped back into the vehicle which drove off, she said.
They were treated by the Baphalali Eswatini Red Cross Society, who cleaned their wounds and bandaged them.
Later, in a statement posted on Facebook, the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) condemned the ‘barbaric action that is continuously done by the “trigger happy” police, in shooting unarmed citizens of the country’.
It added, ‘We promise that we shall take up this matter with the relevant bodies locally and internationally if need be, since it has become a chronic disease in the country.’
The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a group banned in Swaziland because of its prodemocracy activities, said in a statement posted on Facebook, ‘The brutalisation of these innocent workers is an example of the way all pro-democracy activists are treated in Swaziland by King Mswati whenever they organise peaceful activities to protest against his illegitimate regime.’
It added, ‘While we condemn the actions of the Swazi dictatorship, we also extend an accusing finger to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which even today continues to pretend as if Swaziland is another democratic state.’
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