#EswatiniProtests: The Hashtag that helped oil the 2021 pro-democracy protests in Eswatini

Social media platforms have become battlegrounds for activism in a world increasingly reliant on digital spaces. Eswatini, a nation under the absolute rule of a monarchy, has witnessed this phenomenon firsthand. Pro-democracy movements have utilised street protests and online mobilisation to challenge the status quo. In this article, Mciniseli Vilakati shows how the hashtag #EswatiniProtests, a potent hashtag that emerged on X (formerly known as Twitter), became a central force in the fight for democratic reforms.

 #EswatiniProtests hashtag can be traced back to the pro-democracy protests that erupted in May 2021. These demonstrations, fueled by public outrage over the alleged police brutality leading to the death of a young student, Thabani Nkomonye, ignited a firestorm of dissent. The now iconic hashtag #JusticeForThabani emerged as a rallying cry, uniting online and offline citizens in their demands for police accountability.

The assassination of renowned human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko in January 2023 served as another pivotal moment. Maseko's brutal demise, allegedly at the hands of the state, became a chilling symbol of the government’s oppressive nature. This tragedy further galvanised the #EswatiniProtests movement, propelling it onto the international stage.

#EswatiniProtests: A digital battlefield

X, a vibrant platform for open discussions, became a crucial tool for Eswatini's pro-democracy movement. The #EswatiniProtests hashtag was a digital campfire, fostering communication, amplifying messages, and mobilizing supporters. A graph depicting the weekly post activity for various protest hashtags showcases the dominance of #EswatiniProtests, highlighting its consistent use throughout the pro-democracy struggle.

Among all the hashtags associated with the protests in Eswatini, the #EswatiniProtests hashtag has been consistent. The plot below shows the weekly post activity trends for the top hashtags. Each line represents the number of tweets per week for a specific hashtag

Evolving beyond a communication tool, X became a crucial platform documenting the struggles of Eswatini's citizens. This includes acts of political dissent, civic activism, and labor resistance, all in the face of harsh punishments levied under the Swazi government's Terrorism Act of 2008 and the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938. Graphic videos and firsthand accounts exposed the violence and intimidation tactics employed by the Eswatini government. The hashtag became a window into the Swazi people's fight for basic human rights and their yearning for a democratic future.

The reach of #EswatiniProtests transcended national borders. The hashtag not only shed light on the plight of the Swazi people but enabled people outside the country to stand side-by-side with the Swazis. For example, international human rights organizations, foreign media outlets, and prominent individuals amplified the voices of the Swazi people, drawing international attention to their struggle.

This digital movement extended beyond online activism. A Solidarity Fund, established through online platforms, provided crucial financial assistance to activists on the ground, offering support to those injured and families of those who lost their lives during the protests.

Government Response and the Narrative Battleground

The Swazi government has denied allegations of human rights abuses and portrayed the pro-democracy protests as acts of violent dissent. State media outlets have been used to propagate the government's narrative, often labeling protesters as "insurrectionists" or "foreign-backed agents." This strategy has the potential effect of weakening the movement and reducing public participation.

In response to the online mobilization efforts, the government has implemented internet shutdowns and restrictions on social media platforms. These tactics raise concerns about the potential impact of online activism on government actions. Online activism can bring attention to alleged human rights violations and attract international scrutiny.

The Tinkhundla System of Government

Eswatini's political system, the Tinkhundla System, established in 1978 by King Mswati III's father, King Sobhuza II, is a unique and controversial one. It functions as a hierarchical system with limited democratic participation. Tinkhundla, or electoral colleges, form the foundation, with voters selecting representatives who then choose members of the House of Assembly. The King, however, retains significant power, appointing the Prime Minister and a majority of the Senate.

Critics argue that the Tinkhundla System is designed to maintain absolute monarchical rule. Political parties are banned, hindering the development of a strong opposition. The system's alleged lack of transparency and limited democratic space fuels frustrations and contributes to the calls for reform.


The #EswatiniProtests movement transcends a local fight, becoming a powerful global symbol of the potential of online activism to spark real-world change in the fight for democracy and human rights everywhere. While challenges persist, the movement's unwavering spirit has ignited a flame of hope not just in Eswatini, but for all those yearning for a more just and democratic world. Let #EswatiniProtests serve as a rallying cry for global solidarity. The world must stand united with the Swazi people in their struggle for a brighter future, inspiring similar movements everywhere to fight for the rights they deserve.