Angry teachers and government workers clashed with police in the tiny kingdom of eSwatini on Wednesday as they rallied to demand better pay and lower living costs in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
Civil servants took to the streets in Manzini, the kingdom’s second-largest town, singing protest songs and blowing horns.
“We want cost of living adjustment not bullets,” read a banner wielded by one protester.
The crowd threw stones at the police, who responded with water canons, rubber bullets and tear gas.
Civil servants launched a series of strikes across the kingdom of eSwatini — formerly known as Swaziland — last month.
They accuse King Mswati III of spending public money on expensive trips abroad and royal ceremonies at the expense of their salaries.
“King Mswati is not considerate of the plight of the people of the country,” said a worker in Manzini, who wished to remain anonymous.
“We are told that there is no money, the economy is in bad shape but he continues to take expensive trips abroad… with his extended family and friends,” he told AFP, adding that a revolution was “on the cards”.
An AFP reporter at the scene said the majority of shops in Manzini were closed due to the unrest.
“Let’s continue the fight for democracy,” said Mbongwa Dlamini, head of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, adding that some people had been arrested.
The authorities were not immediately available to verify that claim.
Protests are rare in eSwatini, where opposition parties and anti-government movements are effectively banned.
But undercurrents of frustration have surfaced in recent months.
Government spokesperson Percy Simelane said last week that police would open an investigation into the recent demonstrations and that offenders would “face justice”.
“It would be unfortunate if trade unionism could be taken as a chaos club,” Simelane told local media.