Although there were no reported deaths and only nine reported cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) by the end of March, King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini) declared a state of emergency.
Almost immediately, members of the police, army and other security forces were beating and intimidating ordinary civilians. Some businesses reported they also demanded bribes to allow them to stay open.
The response to the coronavirus was the main topic in the period January to March 2020 and contained in Swaziland: Striving for Freedom, volume 37, a compilation of reports posted on the Swazi Media Commentary website and available to download free of charge from the Scribd website.
Elsewhere, even before coronavirus struck, the Swaziland economy continued in freefall. In the annual budget spending on internal security was increased as, ‘Support to our security forces as we pursue economic stability and growth in the country.’
As in previous years, the Auditor General highlighted shortcomings in the way government departments recorded their spending, with billions of emalangeni not properly accounted for.
The education sector continued in crisis as government ran out of money. Many pupils were unable to attend primary school because the government did not pay fees.
King Mswati continued to exert his power over his subjects. University lecturers were forced to weed his fields; his chief of police threatened social media users with the wrath of the law if they dared to criticise the king; in February the King told his parliament to ignore calls for democracy and to stick with him.
Swazi Media Commentary is published online, updated most weekdays. It is operated entirely by volunteers and receives no financial backing from any organisation. It is devoted to providing information and commentary in support of human rights in Swaziland.
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