Bishops in southern Africa are calling for “restraint and a spirit of meaningful dialogue” in the Kingdom of Eswatini as the government cracks down on pro-democracy demonstrations.
Unrest began in the land-locked nation formerly known as Swaziland, after the death of a 25-year-old law student in April, allegedly at the hands of police. Student demonstrations grew into daily pro-democracy rallies throughout the nation in June.
Protestors are voicing opposition to the decades-long rule of King Mswati III, Africa’s last remaining absolute monarch. They are calling for democratic elections, an end to the ban on opposition parties, and the removal of the king from the parliamentary process. Demonstrators have barricaded roads in the capital, Mbabane, and other major cities, while residences and businesses associated with the royal family have been burned.
Government efforts to quell the conflict have increased in recent days, with schools suspended and a nationwide curfew imposed to repress demonstrations. Last week, Amnesty International claimed security forces had killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 150 others who required hospitalization. Opposition leaders are said to be in hiding, with military and police forces patrolling the streets.
In their statement on Monday, the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), expressed their “sadness and concern” for events in Eswatini, including the “loss of lives and livelihoods.” They forcefully condemned “extrajudicial killings, indiscriminate arrests, abductions and torture” that have been reported, as well as “the destruction of both public and private property.” Such destruction, they say, “certainly works against the common good as the property is required for the integral development of the country.”
IMBISA, with representatives from nine countries in six episcopal conferences, called for an end to “all forms of violence,” whether by security forces or by those involved in looting and vandalism.” They also called for the government to guarantee “the provision of the means of communication,” following reports of the disruption of internet services.
The bishops repeated the words of Pope Francis, who during Sunday’s Angelus called on “those who hold responsibility, and those who are manifesting their aspirations for the future of the country” to make “a common effort toward dialogue, reconciliation and the peaceful settlement of different positions.”
They also appealed to the international community, and in particular to the South African Development Community (SADC), “to intervene immediately” in Eswatini “so that lives may be spared.” A delegation from the SADC, including foreign ministers from Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique, arrived in Eswatini earlier this week, calling for national dialogue and calm.
Speaking to the faithful throughout the region, the bishops of IMBISA called for prayers “that peace may be restored in the Kingdom of Eswatini” and for those who have died or who have been injured in the ongoing violence.
Finally, the bishops called on the people of Eswatini not to lose hope, quoting the words of Pope Francis in his most recent encyclical, Fratelli tutti: “Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile.”