Statement by the African Studies Association on restrictions on freedoms for university students and staff in eSwatini

The African Studies Association (ASA), founded in 1957 in the United States, is the largest membership organization of scholars about Africa. The Association condemns the violent retaliation by police and security forces of the Government of the Kingdom of eSwatini against university students, staff, and educators who are protesting for political reforms in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

Almost one year ago (June 30, 2020), the ASA issued a statement to condemning ‘harsh policing strategies employed by some African governments on the African continent, especially those that have been used during the COVID-19 lockdowns.’ The ASA appealed to governments to refrain from using excessive force and to institute policing reforms in the context of public health and social services that address comprehensive approaches to community policing and service delivery. Today, we resound this call on behalf of university students and staff of the Kingdom of eSwatini facing similar conditions.

Since May 2021, the disappearance and death of University of eSwatini (UNESWA) final year law student and activist Thabani Nkomonye, allegedly at the hands of the Royal eSwatini Police Service, further catalyzed a popular movement for policing reforms in the country. The violent response of state security at both peaceful public protests—virtually embodied in #justiceforthabani—and Nkomonye’s memorial service, has been egregious and widely denounced. Young activists, including many university and secondary school students and educators, are standing at the forefront of many of these political protests and are particularly vulnerable amid widespread unemployment and ongoing HIV/AIDS, TB, and COVID-19 epidemics.

On June 29, 2021, schools were closed and a national curfew was implemented by the Acting Prime Minister in response to protests for democratic reform that swept the nation a few days prior. In response to looting and destruction of state property, including parts of the UNESWA campus, state security has acted brutally. The public has documented video footage and photos of police and soldiers indiscriminately arresting, beating, and shooting young activists in their homes and on the streets. Through local social media and regional independent reporting, at least 20 people have been reported as killed by the police (Amnesty International), including 24-year old UNESWA Bachelor of Science student Msimisi Mkhwanazi. Hundreds more are being treated for injuries and further harassed by state security at already resource-strapped hospitals.

MTN (Southern Africa’s Mobile Telecommunications Network) confirmed that eSwatini’s ICT operators disrupted Internet service nationwide, making communications within the country and global reporting about the situation virtually impossible. The right to freely receive and communicate information is enshrined in the country’s constitution, and the suspension of the Internet is a trespass against academic freedoms in particular for eSwatini’s citizens.

ASA joins many other organizations in calling for peace and inclusive political reform that benefits and uplifts the youthful student population of eSwatini and Swazi Diaspora in Southern Africa and the world. Students and staff deserve to return to their campuses and have the freedom to openly express and debate systems of governance and the future of their country, as well as access to the Internet. Finally, we call on governments and international donors, multilateral organizations, foundations and other stakeholders to support reopening safe and free spaces for learning across the country, as well as a third space for dialogue between the eSwatini government, young activists, and other members of civil society around political reforms for a new generation.

Signatories:

ASA Member Originators
1. Casey Golomski
Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of New Hampshire

2. Joel Cabrita
Assistant Professor of History, Stanford University

ASA Member Co-signatories
3. John Aerni-Flessner
Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University

4. Benjamin N. Lawrance
Professor of History, Arizona State University

5. Martha Lagace
Leading Edge Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), with African Communities Together (ACT)

6. Andrea Arrington-Sirois
Assistant Professor of History, Indiana State University

7. Jeremy Rich
Professor of History, Marywood University

8. Jochen S. Arndt
Assistant Professor of African and World History, Virginia Military Institute

9. Ashley N. Parcells
Assistant Professor of History, Jacksonville University

10. Trishula Rachna Patel
Assistant Professor of History, University of Denver

11. Michael Panzer
Social Studies Teacher-in-charge, Roy C. Ketchem High School

12. Wendy Urban-Mead
Associate Professor of History, Bard College

13. Meghan Healy-Clancy
Associate Professor of History, Bridgewater State University

14. Emily Burrill
Associate Professor of History, UNC-Chapel Hill (University of Virginia as of July 18)

15. Adriaan van Klinken
Professor of Religion and African Studies, University of Leeds

16. Elisabeth McMahon
Associate Professor of History, Tulane University

17. Blair Rutherford
Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University

18. Deborah James
Professor of Anthropology, LSE

19. Anne Pitcher
Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan

20. Jill Kelly
Associate Professor of History, Southern Methodist University

21.Liz Thornberry
Associate Professor of History, John Hopkins University

22. Julie MacArthur
Associate Professor of History, Toronto University

23. Derek Peterson
Professor of History, University of Michigan

24. Noah Tamarkin
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University

25. Judith Van Allen
Senior Fellow at the Institute for African Development, Cornell University

Supporting Documentation:

Social media hashtags: #eSwatini, #eSwatiniLivesMatter, #SwaziLivesMatter, #KuhlangaKwenile, #eSwatiniProtests, #eSwatiniProtest

Independent news media outlets: @SwaziNews

Zweli Martin Dlamini, 2021, “Police Shot Protestor in Eye During Students March, Some Went Missing, SNUS [Swaziland National Union of Students] President Denied Entry to RFM Hospital”, Swaziland News, May 17, 2021

Philani Dlamini, 2021, “Eswatini Youth Demand Justice After Thabani Nkomonye’s Mysterious Death,” OkayAfrica, May 25, 2021.

No author, 2021, “[Open access Google photos folder:] Photos and Videos of Eswatini 2021,” June 25 – July 6, 2021.

Pavan Kulkarni, 2021, “eSwatini Police Arrest Pro-democracy Protestors,” The New Frame, June 29, 2021.

Cebelihle Mbuyisa, 2021, “Death of University of eSwatini Law Student,” The New Frame, June 30, 2021.

No author, 2021, “Eswatini: Respect Rights While Policing Protests,” Human Rights Watch, July 1, 2021

Lynsey Chutel, 2021, “Death Toll in eSwatini Protests Rises, but Govt, Activists Dispute Exact Figures,” News 24, July 2, 2021.

No author, 2021, “Eswatini: Dozens Killed, Tortured, Abducted as Pro Democracy Protests Intensify”, Amnesty International, July 2, 2021.

Molaole Montsho, 2021, “29 More People Reportedly Killed in Eswatini Freedom Protests”, iol.co.za news, July 2, 2021.

Cebelihle Mbuyisa and Magnificent Mndebele, 2021, “eSwatini killings: All the king’s men vs the people,” The New Frame, July 5, 2021

No author [Liz Throsell], 2021, “OHCHR voices deep concern over reported deaths of protesters in Kingdom of Eswatini,” United Nations News, July 6, 2021.