Students organize documentary on violence in Eswatini

Students organize documentary on violence in Eswatini

Chloe Vasquez, Staff Writer

At last month’s International Roundtable, student activist and guest speaker Bafanabakhe Sacolo faced government censorship as he spoke on police violence in Eswatini. Chaos broke out last June as police authorities fired live rounds on peaceful pro-democracy protesters. Macalester students Tema Zulu `23 and Bobbie Pennington `24 organized a documentary viewing last Thursday to raise awareness about the violent oppression of these pro-democracy demonstrators.

Saneliswa Magagula is an activist and co-producer of “The Unthinkable | Eswatini Brutality of Armed Forces.” The Eswatini Solidarity Fund, a relief organization, organized the documentary production and compiled shots of interviews and police and military violence from mobile phones. Magagula called the documentary a “labor of love.”

The first large protests broke out in late June 2021 after years of oppression under King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch. When armed forces began firing on the crowd, activists founded the Eswatini Solidarity Fund to provide financial and material relief to Swati victims and their families. It offered food and financial support for medicine, surgery and legal representation for Swatis. As the relief organization contacted demonstrators’ families, they recognized the opportunity for spreading awareness.

 “Let’s show people the true extent of what this regime has done to the people,”  Magagula said. Hopefully by telling their stories, we can inspire people to help.”

At the time of the viewing, at least 200 demonstrators had been killed and 800 imprisoned out of a population of only 1.2 million – and these are only the cases that advocacy groups are aware of. Zulu expressed that numbers only tell half of the story. 

“It dehumanizes the whole movement when people just see numbers, as opposed to seeing the real people involved and their experiences,” Zulu said.

 The documentary cited many deaths, mutilations and physical and emotional traumas inflicted by the Swati armed forces. A majority of the victims are youth or breadwinners for their families. Many were innocent bystanders who ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others approached the demonstrations out of curiosity, only to get caught in the fire. Many peaceful protesters were shot in the back as they fled from the military. The interviews detailed the slow, painful recovery process as victims learned to adjust to their new realities, many living with amputated limbs or bullets still lodged in their bodies.

These events were traumatizing for Swatis around the world, including Macalester students, to watch. 

“These are our families, these are our friends … I looked up names from the casualties on Facebook and found that we had five, ten mutual friends” Magagula said. 

Zulu expressed the helplessness that she and other students felt watching their country burn from afar.

With organizations like the Eswatini Solidarity Fund picking up the pieces of a broken nation, some survivors express hope for change. A gunshot wound survivor soberly claims that his generation will be “the last generation to be oppressed.” 

Magagula summed up the resolve of pro-democracy demonstrators in a scene. 

“When one man is shot in the crowd, the others don’t move,” Magagula said. “They say go ahead and shoot. They don’t have that much to lose at this point. ‘You can kill some of us, but you can’t kill everybody. People are fearless and tired and they just want change by all means necessary.’” 

When student spectators asked how they could support Eswatini in this time of crisis, Magagula first recommended donating to the Eswatini Solidarity Fund, citing how far the money goes towards providing relief. Many people can live off of $2-$4 per day, and with exchange rates, even smaller donations can go a long way to providing families with medicine and food. Magagula also emphasized raising awareness through social media and lobbying American representatives to put pressure on Mswati if he attempts to flee at any point. 

“Journalists in Swaziland have been harassed for reporting, so it’s up to activists outside Swaziland to get the story out,” Magagula said. “That’s why the government tried to shut down the internet. They know that if no one’s watching, the armed forces can do anything.”

“I think the biggest takeaway is for people to stay informed and find ways to support people who are going through things. Not all of us are coming to class with the same mindsets” Zulu said. “I’m not the only one watching my country burn … International students from Tigray, Sudan … are going through things at home. It’s sad when those things are overlooked.” 

Students can consult to donate to the Eswatini Solidarity Fund through Paypal, GoFundMe or through the website. 


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