South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent a team from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to Eswatini, despite having said his hands are tied in trying to end violence gripping the landlocked kingdom.
As chairman of the SADC Defence, Politics and Security Cooperation committee, Ramaphosa appointed three envoys from South Africa to talk to increasingly isolated King Mswati III.
Three South African MPs under former cabinet minister, Jeff Radebe, are to be sent to Mbabane with representatives of Botswana and Namibia.
The SADC team will discuss the escalating political standoff between the king and elements opposed to his continued rule, which has seen police and other government forces use live ammunition on protesters. At least 20 have been injured and numerous are said to be missing.
As the team prepared its intervention effort, there was no sign of a letup in the protests or the violent crackdown.
All indications are that the conflict is escalating, with opposition elements in the tightly-controlled kingdom claiming live ammunition is being used, and that people are being abducted by government forces.
The opposition says at least one school has been burnt by police to make the protests appear violent.
Protest leaders accuse the Mswati regime of violence against demonstrators.
By Wednesday night, at least seven people had been killed, about 50 injured and an unknown number missing – apparently arrested, detained or dead, according to the Swaziland Solidarity Network.
Efforts to find the missing through reporting to police have drawn no response, indicating that they are dead or detained, opposition leaders say.
As part of the crackdown, the internet has been inoperable for days.
But videos of the protests and efforts to crack down on them, including the school in flames and injured protesters, have managed to get past government restrictions to be broadcast in South Africa.
Claims are being made of widespread rights abuses but protest leaders say the internet shutdown and the government efforts to silence dissent have meant even they do not know the full extent of the regime’s application of detention and military force to shore up the King’s weakening position.
Ramaphosa said he expressed appreciation for King Mswati’s availability to receive the SADC delegation, which includes South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations Candith Mashego-Dlamini and Ramaphosa’s Special Adviser on International relations, Maropene Ramokgopa.
“The envoys will be accompanied by SADC Executive Secretary, Elias Magosi, senior officials of the Secretariat and of the South African government,” the president’s spokesman said, adding that the envoys would travel to the kingdom this week.
While opposition accounts of the dead and injured have not been independently verified, it is known that protesters suffered injuries when police fired tear gas at a bus that was taking them to a rally in Mbabane.