On May 17, 2021, police clashed with University of Eswatini (UNESWA) students protesting over the death of a student.
On May 13, the body of Thabani Nkomonye, a law student at the UNESWA, was found by his family off the side of a road. Nkomonye had gone missing on May 8, and local police publicly claimed that he was killed in a car crash and that his body could not be found. Nkomonye’s death sparked protests by his family, students, and civilians, who alleged that he was killed by police after his car was discovered to have bullet holes.
On May 17, approximately 2,000 UNESWA students, including the Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS), and civilians gathered at the UNESWA Kwaluseni Campus and marched to the local Sigodvweni Police Station, located in the town of Matsapha. Protesters were marching to deliver a petition demanding transparency on the cause of Nkomoye’s death and an end to police brutality. Several reports indicate that protesters threw stones at police. Police reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors in retaliation. One report indicates a bystander was shot in the eye.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violence during a student-led protest. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain order and security, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate to the situation, do not endanger protesters, and are not undertaken to restrict nonviolent expressive activity. Students likewise have a responsibility to carry out expressive activities peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of violent force during protests undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.