JOHANNESBURG -- Southern African nations have sent envoys to the tiny kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, to engage with King Mswati III about the political and civil unrest that has engulfed the country in recent weeks.
The 16-nation Southern African Development Community sent top officials from Eswatini's neighbor South Africa and the nearby countries of Botswana and Namibia.
Eswatini has been embroiled in pro-democracy protests by demonstrators demanding sweeping reforms including the removal of King Mswati, who has ruled the mountainous country since 1986 as an absolute monarch where all political parties are banned.
Mswati is accused by activists of ordering the country’s security forces to violently suppress the demonstrations. The pro-democracy activists accuse King Mswati of living a lavish lifestyle with more than a dozen wives while the majority of the country’s 1.1 million people are in poverty. Eswatini is one of the world's least developed countries.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the regional bloc’s committee on defense, politics and security, announced Thursday that a delegation consisting of representatives from the bloc's nations would go to Eswatini.
The delegation is led by South Africa's former justice minister Jeff Radebe. The regional body sent a delegation earlier this year and was criticized for not meeting with representatives of the pro-democracy movement.
Mduduzi Simelane, a dissident member of Eswatini's parliament who faces arrest for his involvement in pro-democracy activities, said the situation in the country is worsening.
“We hope that as Ramaphosa sends these envoys to Swaziland, they will be looking to address the problems of the people of Swaziland, not only to listen to Mswati," said Simelane, using the country's previous name, which was abruptly changed by the king in 2018.
“We are not sure whether this action was spurred by the violence that Mswati unleashed on people yesterday (Wednesday), or what the motivation is,” said Simelane, who said he was speaking to The Associated Press from hiding as he feared for his life.
The king's government has tried to suppress the demonstrations by restricting internet access as videos of the unrest had spread on social media.
MTN Eswatini, the country’s biggest mobile operator, confirmed in a statement on Thursday that it had been instructed to close some services.
“We will continue engaging with the relevant stakeholders to minimize the impact and duration of the service disruption,” the group said in a statement.