By Bongiwe Dlamini | 2019-10-03
HAVING declared that they wanted to shut down Manzini, civil servants yesterday made true their promise and brought the hub of the country to a complete standstill – as it became a battlefield.
What started as a peaceful demonstration did not end well as about 10 people were injured during clashes between members of the public sector associations (PSAs) and the police. This episode of violence among professionals empowered with impeccable skills and those trained to use ‘minimal force’ in resolving conflict culminated a gathering that started peacefully.
However, tensions were bound to rise as thousands civil servants and sympathisers descended to the country’s populous city to join the protest for the Cost of Living Adjustment (CoLA).
One of the injured marchers was Secretary General for NAPSAWU’s Manzini Branch Dumisani Nkuna, who was shot at, allegedly with live rounds of ammunition, in the back, just close to the spinal cord. Nkuna was rushed to the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital, where he was admitted.
Information gathered from reliable sources was that a bullet was removed from his back. He was not the only one as another one had two gunshot wounds in his hand.
Other casualities were attended to by paramedics at the scene. One of these was a woman who was sprayed with pepper sprays at close range. The woman; Khetsiwe Dlamini was seated at about 100 metres from where the chaos started when she was attacked. Information was to the effect that the woman was with her son who had been from court when this happened.
As a build-up to this sad scenario, the police officials and the PSAs’ march started out on a peaceful note as they convened to discuss how they all wanted to have a casualty free demonstration.
The two parties discussed how the police leaders and the unions’ marshals were going to communicate so as to avoid situations where members would be injured by the minimum force that would be used to bring them to order.
When making this plan, the two parties referenced to the incident that happened last Wednesday in Mbabane.
Subsequently, the demonstration started off calmly as the police and the civil servants did not get in each other’s way. The civil servants started off at the post office and marched along Ngwane Street through to the Mhlakuvane Street.
Along the way, the demonstrators held mini-speeches where they informed the general public about their participation in the protest and why they were on strike. As this was going on, groups of other civil servants occasionally emerged from all directions to join the main gathering. These civil servants were brought by buses at different intervals.
From Mhlakuvane Street; near the Manzini Main Market, the civil servants marched towards the direction of the Regional Education Office. The crowd rested at the four-way between the Eswatini National Provident Fund and the Manzini Shopping Centre.
Meanwhile, a smaller group of the demonstrators broke away from the main crowd and headed towards Mahleka Street where they started some fire in the middle of the road.
Some officers from the Operational Support Services Unit (OSSU) put out the fire. However, the demonstrators sourced more firewood to start two more bon-fires. At this juncture, this smaller crowd was joined by the rest of the civil servants who continued to sing and dance while the police watched.
As the fire became bigger, there was dark smoke that filled the air, and this is when the chaos broke out. Stones were hurled in the air and teargas was used to disperse the crowd.
The teargas was hurled in all directions and the protesters ran helter-skelter. For a moment, there was calm as everyone ran for dear life. However, the civil servants did not give up as they regrouped and carried on with the demonstration for the rest of the day.
When sought for comment about the allegation that the police used live rounds of ammunition on the protesters, Government Spokesperson Percy Simelane said if there was illegal shooting, investigations will be conducted and accordingly dealt with.
“Without proper investigation the incident remains an allegation. There has been so many of them before so we need to tread carefully,” Simelane said.
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