Police and soldiers in Swaziland (eSwatini) have been accused of demanding bribes from businesses to allow them to stay open during the coronavirus lockdown.
It happened in the main commercial city of Manzini, according to a media report in the kingdom.
Elsewhere in Swaziland police have been accused of illegally forcing businesses to close. Police with batons reportedly threatened workers.
Swaziland is on a 20-day lockdown in response to the coronavirus.
The Times of eSwatini reported that members of the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS), His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) and Umbutfo Eswatini Defence Force (UEDF) had been accused. It reported, ‘The business owners alleged that some of the security personnel had offered to let them operate their businesses as long as they gave them money.’
One businessman told the newspaper three police officers in uniform had offered to let him trade as long as he paid them E700.
It reportedly happened on Saturday (28 March 2020), the first day of the lockdown.
There were also reports that small businesses such as hairdressing salons, dressmaking and retail outlets in the capital Mbabane had been illegally forced to close.
The Times of eSwatini reported, ‘ A group of police officers forced hairdressers out of their workplaces at the Commercial Centre in the capital city [on Monday] and were carrying batons while shouting at the frightened employees. What seemed to be the gripe, according to the small business owners, was that neither government nor the law enforcers had notified them that they should close, but the police came to their businesses and ordered them to close shop.’
A hairdresser told the newspaper, ‘eSwatini declared a partial lockdown and we seek clarity on what exactly it entails as it now appears that all shops are being closed and everyone is chased home.’
Regulations published after the lockdown was announced cover the closure of bars, and restaurants but say nothing about other shops.
In a statement issued on the first day of the lockdown Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini said business were ‘expected to scale down their operations and, most importantly, meet the appropriate health and hygiene standards, failing which they risk closure.
‘We continue to engage business to cushion the effects of this partial lockdown on their businesses, and more especially, to ensure full compliance to the partial lockdown measures,’ he said.
Police were also reportedly out in force on the streets of Mbabane on Monday stopping people and demanding proof of residence.
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