Mbabane — Mobile operators in the Southern African kingdom of Eswatini have been told to suspend access to Facebook and its messenger app, the local unit of telecoms group MTN said, after protests against the king flared into violence.

MTN Eswatini said it had implemented the directive from the country’s communications commission to suspend Facebook access with immediate effect and until further notice. It did not say what reasons the commission gave for its order.

Eswatini government spokesperson Sabelo Dlamini referred all questions to the communications ministry. A senior official there was not immediately available when phoned.

The Facebook suspension comes as SA’s presidency said envoys from Southern African countries were expected to travel to Eswatini on Thursday in a bid to quell violence there.

Anger against King Mswati III, the country’s absolute ruler, has been building for years. What began as demonstrations against police brutality in June and July escalated into violence, which the local authorities quashed with teargas and water cannon, and another round of protests erupted in recent weeks.

Mswati has kept a tight grip on every branch of the government for more than three decades. The country has an electoral system that doesn’t allow political parties, and in June the government banned the delivery of petitions.

SA President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed the envoys to Eswatini in his capacity as chair of regional bloc Sadc’s organ on defence, politics and security co-operation.

The envoys include deputy minister of international relations & co-operation Candith Mashego-Dlamini and former cabinet minister Jeff Radebe, as well as representatives of Botswana and Namibia.

Campaigners say 53-year-old Mswati has ignored calls for reforms that would nudge Eswatini, which changed its name from Swaziland in 2018, in the direction of democracy.

The king denies accusations of autocratic rule and of using public money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the impoverished nation that borders SA. In July he called protests against his rule “satanic”.

“The special envoys will be accompanied by Sadc executive secretary Elias Magosi, senior officials of the Sadc secretariat and senior officials of the South African government,” according to the statement from Ramaphosa’s office. 

In protests in Eswatini schools last week students chanted “Mswati must fall” and “Release our MPs”, a reference to two lawmakers arrested during earlier protests. Bus drivers blocked some main roads in the city of Manzini.



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