Eswatini king ‘uses mercenaries to torture activists’

South African-based mercenaries are among the military extremists reported to have been roped in by the Eswatini government in its bid to clamp down on pro-democracy forces calling for regime change in the landlocked country.

This was revealed to Sunday World by political activists who are leading a campaign to bring an end to king Mswati III’s reign, who is Africa’s remaining absolute monarch since 1986.

Eswatini government was, however, quick to point out that there was nothing untoward with the recruitment of foreign agents to assist in the war against “terrorists”.

Eswatini deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said: “Government has not hired any mercenaries. However, there are security experts that have been engaged to assist with certain aspects of the country’s security issues.”

But spokesperson for the Swazi Solidary Network Mfanafuthi Tsela told this paper that their own intelligence had revealed that besides the South African rightwing grouping who are also ex-combatants, other militia grouping from central Asia and the Middle East had been brought to Eswatini “to hunt down political activists”.

“These mercenaries are used by King Mswati to carry out assassinations and to torture political activists. They report directly to the king, and we know through our intelligence that some of these private military contractors are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel,” he said.

Other revelations by Tsela, who is currently in South Africa following a threat on his life, is that militia groupings are also responsible for providing training to a group of recruits assembled to deal with the so-called terrorists. “This training is conducting in Mhlambanyathi forest. The sole aim is to clamp down on any political activism in the country,” said Tsela.

According to the Swaziland Solidarity Network, members of a white supremacist grouping known as “the Boeremag”, convicted of treason in 2003, are part of the South African private combatants.

The Boeremag , as South Africa enter a new phase of democracy in the 1990s, were allegedly hellbent on assassinating former president Nelson Mandela, among other prominent black leaders. In 2002, the grouping claimed responsibility for a series of bombings targeting black townships in Gauteng. These included the planting of the bombs, which killed a woman and injured her husband. The group was allegedly brought to eSwatini by
finance minister Neal Rijkenberg, a South African-born businessman and one of Mswati’s trusted lieutenants.

The political developments come hot on the heels of the brutal slaying of Thulani Maseko, a known political activist and human rights lawyer, who was assassinated on January 21 at his home in Luhleko, outside Mbabane, Eswatini’s capital.

Maseko had been watching a football match between Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs with his wife and two children when he was shot at point-blank range in front of his family.

Other political activists have since gone into hiding.

Spuku Phakathi of the People’s United Democratic Movement, one of the key political formations in Eswatini, believes that for far too long Mswati has been allowed “to get away with murder”.

Meanwhile, the South African Council of Churches is leading a campaign calling for the South African government to take visible steps against Mswati III.

“The key thing for which we advocate is that visible active steps must be taken with time frames, and if regular diplomacy does not work, the next step must be economic sanctions. King Mswati III is personally heavily invested in much of the country’s economic activities.

“You can hardly find a tourist or hospitality facility where he or his networks are not active.”

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