Schools in eSwatini have closed indefinitely as a result of ongoing protests that have impacted education institutions in the country. Young people, particularly high school and university students, have been at the forefront of protests against the monarchy in the country which have been ongoing for just over six months.
The country closed schools with immediate effect on Saturday Oct. 16, with King Mswati ordering the shutdown himself. There has been no word on how this will impact end-of-year assessments and examinations for the country’s children.
According to eSwatini’s local media, the decision to close schools came after students boycotted classes in a call for free education and an end to the monarchy’s rule of the country.
In response to the school closures and the protests, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on the eSwatini government to prioritise children's rights, and raised concerns about the use of excessive force reported at student demonstrations.
An official statement released on Monday Oct. 18, from Guterres' spokesperson, said: "The Secretary-General reiterates the importance of enabling the people of eSwatini to exercise their civil and political rights peacefully. He urges the government to ensure that security forces act in conformity with relevant international human rights standards, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child."
He went on to condemn ongoing violence and said that the UN is working with the eSwatini government to reach a peaceful resolution.
Last week, protests in and around schools resulted in police action against demonstrators, most of whom are students. On Wednesday, Oct. 13, police opened fire on protesting students, resulting in one death and over a dozen others injured. Since then, according to pro-democracy activists on the ground, there has been army and police visibility around schools this week, where several students have been arrested.
The protests began in June this year as a call for police and leadership accountability following the death of law student, Thabani Nkomonye, who died under mysterious circumstances in May. The family of Nkomonye and the youth of eSwatini believe that the 25-year-old died as a result of police brutality, meeting an alleged similar fate to many young people in the country.
Protests have been ongoing ever since and have resulted in the deaths of at least 28 people. Businesses and infrastructure have also been damaged amid protests, with the government calling for protesters to not target businesses — many of which King Mswati benefits from.
“There is no room for such anarchy in our society,” the country’s commerce minister, Manqoba Khumalo said in a statement on Monday. “As His Majesty King Mswati III has communicated a number of times, dialogue will be initiated with all emaSwati to find an allied solution to our political future.”
There has been no direct response from the monarchy regarding calls for police accountability and democratic changes, however there have been local reports of King Mswati brushing off the demands of pro-democracy activists.
Since the beginning of the protests, activists have been taking to social media to raise awareness about ongoing police violence in the country. On Friday Oct. 15, before the school closure announcement, the internet across the country was shut down for at least two hours as protesters marched to the country’s capital.
This is not the first time that there has been an internet blackout amid protests in the Kingdom: in June as protests began to escalate, the country faced a prolonged internet shutdown, limiting how much citizens could communicate outside of the kingdom’s borders.
You can learn more about why the pro-democracy protests are ongoing in the country, and how you can take action, here.