The eSwatini government’s strict Covid-19 restrictions have been dismissed as a ploy to crush dissenting voices following several days of unrest.
The curfew, announced on Tuesday afternoon, coincided with overnight protests in the southern African country, which saw supermarkets looted and property burned.
Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku said the government was aware of the Covid-19 Delta variant in South Africa and introduced a curfew in an effort to limit its spread into eSwatini.
“All offices and businesses must close by 15:30 and essential workers must carry a permit at all times. Schools are also closed with immediate effect. No one is expected to be in the streets after 18:00,” Masuku said at 17:00hrs local time.
The curfew will be in effect from 18:00hrs and 05:00hrs.
'Nothing to do with Covid'
However, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), a lobby movement based in neighbouring South Africa, says the curfew has nothing to do with Covid-19.
“Firstly, they shut down the internet yesterday [Tuesday] immediately after the Prime Minister’s press conference. When the curfew was announced it was 5pm. How do you announce a curfew an hour before the curfew? If the curfew was a government initiative, it could have been announced in the morning or the previous day,” said Lucky Lukhele of SSN.
eSwatini has seen increasing protests in recent weeks to demand multiparty democracy, economic reforms and police accountability.
The protests gained momentum when a government decree banned citizens from demonstrating and delivering petitions to government officials.
Mr Masuku said the government would introduce an email address where petitions can be sent.
He said the move will ensure the government deals with citizens' grievances but also maintains “the rule of law and de-escalate tension that had turned this exercise into violence and disorder”.
But activists accuse the government of heavy-handedness in its response to protesters.
The People United Democratic Movement accused the government of using military forces to crack down on civilians. The group claimed at least five people were critically injured and a dozen were arrested.