“His Majesty’s Government has decided to close schools indefinitely with immediate effect, as the country faces a wave of pro-democracy protests.” Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini said in a statement.
A series of ongoing protests in Eswatini against the monarchy and for democratization began back in June, civil society and opposition groups demonstrated in the largest cities of Manzini and Mbabane. What started as a peaceful protest on 20 June, escalated after 25 June into violence and looting as the government took a hardline stance against the demonstrations and prohibited the delivery of petitions.
At least 28 people died as police clashed with protesters in the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history. The most recent death occurred on Wednesday, this comes after several weeks of students protest, boycotting lessons, and calling for free schooling, as well as an end to the regime under King Mswati III.
The protests this week 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. According to pro-democracy activists, the army and police were deployed in schools this week, and several students have been arrested.
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. On Friday, as pro-democracy marchers headed to the capital, Eswatini shut down the internet, the internet shutdown blocked social media completely for two hours and left many services running very slowly afterward.
On Saturday, the situation was calm, according to an AFP journalist. King Mswati III who has ruled Eswatini since 1986, is being criticized for living a lavish lifestyle in one of the world’s poorest countries and is also accused of stifling political parties.