PICS | eSwatini student’s death sparks protests over alleged police brutality

Colani Khulekani Maseko leads the Swaziland National Students' Union in protest.

Colani Khulekani Maseko leads the Swaziland National Students’ Union in protest.

Colani Khulekani Maseko/Swaziland National Student

  • Protesting eSwatini students believe Thabani Nkomonye was killed by the police.  
  • Calls for justice have increased after the police arrested students attending his memorial.
  • The eSwatini government has called for an inquest into the Nkomonye’s death.

Dozens of students marched to eSwatini’s Parliament on Wednesday to demand justice for a young man believed to have been killed by the police.

Thabani Nkomonye’s body was found on a field in Nhlambeni, about 10km outside Manzini on 14 May.

The police allege he died in a car crash on 8 May, but eSwatini youth believe he is the latest victim of police brutality in the country.

They have taken to the street, and tweeted with the hashtag #JusticeForThabani.

“We are not only demanding the end of police brutality, we are going one step further and demanding a multiparty democracy in which the police are accountable to the people and not only to the king. The king is a god in Swaziland,” said Colani Khulekani Maseko, the president of the Swaziland National Students’ Union.

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While Maseko handed over a petition to MPs, his fellow union members appeared in court on the same day.

The union’s secretary-general, Sacolo Bafanabakhe, and four others were arrested on 21 May when a memorial for Nkomonye turned violent, with the police allegedly firing teargas at demonstrating students.

protest

Students protest the alleged killing of a young student by police.

“We are here today because the head of government, in his acting capacity, unleashed the police on grieving citizens, a mourning family trying to pay its respects to their son who we have every reason to believe is a victim of police abuse of power,” the petition said.

Wednesday’s march also coincided with an ongoing inquest into Nkomonye’s death.

Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku established the inquest, appointing a senior magistrate as the coroner to oversee the matter.

On Tuesday, Nkomonye’s mother, Siphiwe Mkhabela, testified at the inquest.

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She said she was among the people who discovered her son’s body, adding they had reported Nkomonye missing a day after the car accident, but after the police were unable to locate his body, they searched for him themselves.

protest

Students protest the alleged killing of a young student by police.

Mkhabela told the panel Nkomonye’s eyes had been gouged out, and that his body had three holes, in his shoulder, thigh and stomach, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland.

“The intention is to get the truth behind the allegations levelled against the police and take the necessary action if it calls for it,” said eSwatini government spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini.

“We hold sacrosanct the right of life for all emaSwati, hence the inquest was swiftly put together and the coroner, Senior Magistrate Nonhlanhla Dlamini, appointed. This is a judicial process which is currently being held in public.”

Said Maseko:

That inquest is a joke. You cannot hire a thing to investigate a thug.

He and other students believe Nkomonye was tortured by police.

They point to the fact his car was found in the police station’s parking lot, and that it took the family to find his body. Still, there is no clear motive for why the police would have killed the University of eSwatini law student.

“For now, there’s still no clear reason why Thabani was [allegedly] targeted by police,” Maseko told News24.

Royal eSwatini Police Service spokesperson Superintendent Phindile Vilakati said she could not comment on the matter because it was under investigation, adding the police did not communicate with “external” media. 

The union plans to march to the Limkokweng University of Creative Technology on Friday.

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