It has been a year since the country’s security forces rained bullets to unarmed and defenceless citizens demanding the right to elect a government of their choice. At around this time last year, the king’s government went on a rampage killing, maiming and injuring over 400 Swazis. 12 months later, the country is standing on tenterhooks. SADC promises of a dialogue have vanished.

No investigation into whether police used excessive force. No apology and accountability by the government especially on claims that soldiers made people put out fire using their bare hands and haunting claims that they threw people into fire at Matsapha. The king has responded to the violence last year with more insults and arrogance. To the government it is business as usual, last year didn’t happen.

Frustration with no reforms or at least promises of tinkering with the system has bred a new nation; violent and merciless. On the receiving end of this new violence has been high profile individuals and businesses associated with the state. The country's violence virginity has been broken, permanently so. 

This week police officers are mourning the death of two police officers who were shot by what is suspected to be an underground group calling itself Swaziland International Solidarity Forces. Two police officers were gunned down as part of what the group said was a response to the harassment of innocent Swazis by the police. The group has claimed responsibility for the recent space of torching of property belonging to the state or associates of the Swazi government. 

Up until recently the group has been torching and engaging in economic sabotage targetting mainly the security establishment and acolytes of the royal family. Recently the group escalated their offensive targeting police officers and the army personnel. Recently a police officer was shot dead at Mathangeni, Matsapha, at around 7pm while another, Zinhle Mavuso, was shot near Manzini Club traffic circle on Saturday at around 3am. Mavuso was killed while her colleague, Philani Mntungwa, was rushed to hospital with serious injuries. Media reports claim that Mavuso is alleged to have left the police station with a colleague to attend to a supposed road traffic accident around Mathangeni. This was after the purported road traffic accident was reported through a phone call to the Matsapha Police Station. According to the Times of eSwatini source, when the officers reached Mathangeni, they slowed down because there was traffic and they assumed that it was caused by the reported supposed road traffic accident. The source said several gunshots were suddenly fired at the car by unknown men.

The death of two police officers should have ordinarily solicited sympathy from Swazis but if the sentiments on social media are anything to go by then the police have literally been left on their own. Circulating voice notes of police officers chatting at various police stations show deep fear and frustration about the recent turn of events. In one voice note one police officer is heard even suggesting not wearing the police uniform while on duty to avoid being a target. But why are people not sympathetic and in fact celebrating the death of police officers? The Bridge has decided to go back in time and trace back why it is no longer ‘nawe uliphoyisa’ as the nation grows increasingly spiteful of the police. On the other side of the pendulum is years of failure by the state to hold officers who kill alleged criminals and innocent citizens accountable. 

Historically, Swazi police have shown their willingness to shoot and ask questions later. The over 70 Swazis massacred last year during the failed uprising is but the ultimate peak of years of police impunity. The case of Ntokozo Ngozo and Sipho Jele, from among others, still lingers in many people's heads.  In 2007 The Times SUNDAY went to great lengths to show that activist Ntokozo Ngozo had been shot unarmed and surrendering to the police. Ngozo had conducted an interview with the publication the previous week where he claimed that police wanted to kill him and that if he died the world must know they didn't really want to arrest but kill him. True to his prediction he was killed executing style by police. 

The police claimed Ngozo was armed and dangerous, and therefore had to shoot him dead to protect themselves. But the Times Sunday (19 August 2007) found witnesses who say that police shot Ngozo in cold blood while he had his hands up and was pleading for his life. Then Times of Swaziland SUNDAY Reporter Charles Matsebula had managed to trace two witnesses who told him that Ngozo was shot four feet from the doorstep of the house he was staying in. Ngozo was half naked wearing only a pair of jeans and walking barefooted. He was not armed. His hands were up in the air, begging the police not to shoot. But the police shot him point blank nonetheless. One witness told the Times Sunday that the house was surrounded by police and Ngozo realised he was about to be arrested. ‘Wearing only underwear, he run to the back door and locked it. He came back and quickly put on his pair of jeans and half naked, barefooted, he walked to the front door very slowly with his hands up.’ The eyewitness said at the time.

He took one step, coming outside the house and stepping on the ground. Police were in front of the house watching him. At that moment, a voice from the police officers who were behind the house shouted, “If it’s Ntokozo shoot him, if it’s Ntokozo shoot him” and they fired. He cried out loud when hit by the bullet as he pleaded for their mercy, but they fired again and he fell on the ground still crying.’ The witness added, ‘I knew that Ntokozo had no gun with him because he was sleeping naked when the police arrived.’ Another witness told the Times Sunday that police officers used him as a human shield to protect them against any possible gunfire. He said, ‘Someone from behind shouted, “It’s Ntokozo. It’s Ntokozo, shoot him, shoot him”, and there were gun shots and everybody ran for cover as at first most of them did not see who was shooting.’ The eyewitness added, ‘When I tried to look, Ntokozo was already on the ground. They [the police] pulled me back and we went out of the kitchen and went around the house to where he had been shot.’

The eyewitness claimed Ngozo pleaded with police not to kill him. Ngozo spent two hours groaning in pain while police interrogated him about criminal activities. Police also interrogated two other people who were at the house. The Times Sunday also established that police did not take Ngozo to hospital immediately as police had claimed. 

The Ngozo case was not an isolated one. On 1 May 2020 democracy activist Sipho Jele was arrested by eSwatini police and later killed. The 35-year-old Jele was arrested and charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act on 1 May 2010 for wearing a T-shirt supporting the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), an organisation banned in the kingdom. He was taken to Manzini Police Station and then to Sidwashini Remand Correctional Institution. He was found hanging from a beam in a shower block on 3 May. An inquest verdict delivered in March 2011 said in effect that Jele levitated to the ceiling unaided, tied an old piece of blanket around a beam and then around his own neck and then allowed himself to fall to the ground, thereby killing himself by hanging.

Independent Specialist Forensic Pathologist Dr Ganas Perumal speaking at the inquest said there was no evidence that Jele had been hanged. According to a report in the Swazi News, Perumal said, ‘In this case there is no evidence of being hung. The perplexing thing is how he got suspended as there was no object on which he stood. In most cases the object is kicked away for the body to remain suspended. There was no such object that was found. That is the only feature that doesn’t confirm suicide. It is an enigma how he hung without standing on an object.’ Questioned by the late attorney Leo Gama on whether it was possible that Jele had tied the rope around his neck while seated on the beam he was found hanging from, and then threw himself down for the rope to tighten around his neck, Dr Perumal entirely ruled out this possibility. ‘In that case there would be stretching of the skin and moreover, there would be a problem with the spine. Looking at the findings, we can exclude that scenario. There are no features to suggest that,’ he said. It emerged at the inquest that Swazi police and prison warders lied a number of times about the circumstances up to the time of the death. They had claimed that they interviewed people who were in the same cell as Jele about the circumstances of his death but Perumal told the inquest that the cellmates denied being interviewed.

The late Sipho Jele

Perumal said, ‘I asked if any of the inmates had been interviewed to see if they had seen him and if any fight had ensued during the night of his death but none had been interviewed.’ This was not the first time that the police had been found out lying to the inquest. Previously, it was discovered that police had recorded in an official journal that Jele was in good health when he arrived at Manzini police station. The official record – called the RSP 3 book – said the entry was made by Constable David Tsabedze, but he told the inquest that he never made the entry. This led to Attorney Leo Gama concluding that Tsabedze never made such entries and left the space vacant, but when the police heard that there was to be an inquest into the matter, someone filled up those spaces without telling Tsabedze. This was so they could show Jele was in good health when he left the police station. Another anomaly was that although Jele was brought to the police station at 5.30pm on 1 May, he was only placed in a police cell at 11pm and no one could come forward to state what happened in the meantime. In a bizarre twist the inquest heard that Jele asked to be sent to Sidwashini because he feared being ‘tubed’ (tortured and suffocated) if he was sent back to police custody. Then Swaziland Director of Public Prosecutions Mumcy Dlamini said she was pleased to hear this because it meant Jele had not yet been tortured while at the police station. Dlamini told the inquest as far as she knew the only reason why Jele wanted to go to Sidvwashini was his fear of torture by police. The inquest was told Jele was taken out of the Manzini Police Station’s cell for interrogation purposes for hours on different occasions, but one officer said it was unclear whether they also took him out of the building.

Police in Swaziland have shot dead a number of suspects recently in what appears to be a “Shoot-to-Kill” policy. Serial rapist suspect Bhekinkhosi Masina, popularly known as Scarface, was shot by police as they cornered him for arrest. Police say they only shot him in the thigh and he unexpectedly died of his injuries. The Times of Swaziland newspaper later revealed he had been shot six times, including in the head and back. Since then it has been revealed that in a separate incident, a mentally ill man, Mduduzi Mngometulu, aged 34, was shot seven times by police and died of his injuries. He had four holes in his stomach, one in the leg and two bullet wounds on the left side of his chest. The man’s family said they had called police to help them get him to hospital for treatment. Police later said they had to defend themselves from the man. His family told local media they believe the police murdered him. Mduduzi’s father, Enock Mngometulu, said the family witnessed the shooting. “The police just opened fire on my sonAll he had in his hand was a bush knife and he was not threatening to harm anyone. They shot him in cold blood, in front of his family.” He said his son did not pose a threat to the people present. On 11 February 2014 a plain-clothed policeman shot an unarmed man in the back killing him while on a public bus. The man had allegedly stolen some copper wire before boarding the bus, travelling from Siteki, in eastern Swaziland to Manzini. The Times Sunday newspaper reported the driver of the bus, Majahonke Zikalala saying, ‘the man was attempting to force his way out of the bus, the police officer shot him in the back, near the spine… the man fell on the floor after which he was handcuffed while he bled’. He died of his injures at the scene. 

 On May 17 of the same year the Times of Swaziland reported that the police shot and killed Mathendele Mantfonsi in a remote forest in the Lomahasha area, near the Mozambique border, where he was tending his marijuana field. Police argued the shooting was in self defense as Mantfonsi attempted to resist arrest after being caught engaging in illegal activity.. On January 29, Mbongeni Masuku was dragged from his car by police officers and shot in the head. RSPS spokesperson Superintendent Wendy Hleta told reporters that Masuku was resisting arrest. Masuku’s family, present at the time of the shooting, said Masuku knew the police officers and had been threatened by them. According to the RSPS, the case remained under active investigation but nothing came of it.

As if these controversial murders were not enough consider the story of LaFakudze who died shortly after police interrogation. Back in 2005, On January 4 to be exact, La Fakudze, wife to Mduduzi Mamba, then a SWAYOCO member facing High Treason charges, died in the hospital in Siteki after she was admitted complaining of shortness of breath and chest pains. La Fakudze had been detained for two hours of questioning about her husband's alleged involvement of throwing petrol bombs. A doctor's report stated that Fikile died of abdominal trauma. Her only crime was being wife to a democrat and freedom fighter. Newspapers ran a series of reports about he r death after extensive police interrogation to try to find information that would link her husband to acts of arson. 

On February 22 of the same year it was reported that Mthokothoko Mamba died in Pigg's Peak Government Hospital, 11 days after officers of the Horo Police Post arrested him and his two brothers on suspicion of theft. The three, all of whom claimed to have been beaten in detention, were released on February 13. On February 18, Mthokothoko's relatives took him to the hospital when his condition worsened. The results of a February 24 post-mortem were not made public. On February 23, 2007 officers from the Mdutshane Correctional Facility reported that Muzi Ntshalintshali had died in their custody while serving a nine month sentence for wounding his uncle. Journalists who saw the body reported that it bore injuries to the arms, chest, and stomach.

The late Ntokozo Ngozo in his younger days. 

On June 27 of the same year Sandile Motsa, a soldier, Sicelo Dlamini and Mfankhona Hlophe, both security guards, allegedly assaulted and tortured a man whom they suspected of intending to break into the royal residence at Goje township in Ezulwini, where the three were on guard. The man died the same day of the injuries. On September 5, Mphikeleli Mabuza died in hospital after police shot him at his homestead in the Mahlanya area. Police alleged that he was attempting to flee arrest for burglary; Mabuza's family, present during the incident, claimed that the police shot him in the back as he struggled with them. In January the Mabuza family filed a lawsuit against the police for wrongful death. In May 2005 Charles and Mfanzile Mabuza were killed during a police raid at their homestead. The Mabuza family cited a report by an independent forensic pathologist from South Africa that stated that the round of ammunition which killed Charles was characteristic of a rifle, refuting the police report that Mfanzile, armed with a handgun, had accidentally shot Charles….”