King Mswati III has ordered the immediate and indefinite closure of schools in Eswatini.
This follows a protest by students and learners boycotting lessons and calling for free schooling, as well as an end to the King’s rule.
“The past week has been marred by a spate of riots and violence, placing the lives of emaSwati, in particular children of school-going age at risk…His Majesty’s Government has taken the decision to close schools indefinitely with immediate effect,” read the declaration in part.
Swaziland Youth Congress President, Sonke Dube, says this decision has a negative impact on the academic year.
“It renders the whole academic year null and void because you can’t say at this juncture you are going to close schools because of protest and expect that a miracle from somewhere will happen and salvage the academic year for students. There have been these closures due to COVID-19 and now we are closing them due to protest instead of responding to the demands of the students.”
Pro-democracy protests have flared up in Eswatini, months after authorities loyal to the southern African country’s absolute monarch quashed an earlier round of demonstrations using tear gas and water cannon.
Anger against King Mswati III has been building for years. Campaigners say the 53-year-old King has consistently ignored calls for reforms that would nudge Eswatini, which changed its name from Swaziland in 2018, in the direction of democracy.
The King denies accusations of autocratic rule and of using public money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the impoverished nation that borders South Africa.
In July, he called protests against his rule “satanic” and said they had taken the country backward.
The protests included demonstrations in schools by students chanting “Mswati must fall” and “Release our MPs,” a reference to two lawmakers arrested during anti-monarchy protests this year.
Bus drivers blocked some of the main roads in the city of Manzini.
On Friday, Eswatini shut down the internet for two hours as pro-democracy marchers headed to the capital.
The shutdown came as images of the protests circulated on social and traditional media, including pictures of two people who said they had been injured by gunshots fired by security forces.
The internet shutdown blocked social media and left many services running very slowly afterward.
On Saturday, the situation was calm, according to an AFP journalist.
King Mswati III has ruled Eswatini since 1986 and owns shares in the country’s telecoms.
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