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1 SHOT DEAD IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT PROTEST SHUTDOWN

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MANZINI – The public transport workers’ protest yesterday resulted in one of them being shot dead at Luyengo and a shutdown of some towns in the country.

The mayhem, particularly in Manzini, resulted in soldiers being deployed. The workers were demanding a minimum wage of E4 000 and the release of the arrested MPs for change. The arrested parliamentarians are Hosea Member of Parliament (MP) Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Ngwempisi MP Mthandeni Dube. On the other hand, they also demanded the release of Amos Mbedzi, the South African national who was convicted of five charges, including sedition and murder. He was sentenced to 85 years and six months in prison by the High Court of Eswatini.

The public transport workers operating in Manzini decided to protest yesterday with the intention of delivering a petition to the police and their employers. The protest was supposed to start at 9am, but public transport vehicles were ordered to vacate the bus rank as early was 8:30am and this left members of the public, including pupils, stranded as kombis, minibuses and buses were not allowed to leave the rank with passengers.

Vehicles

When the public transport vehicles vacated the bus rank, there was a lot of noise. This caused panic among members of the public and businesses. As a result, a majority of the people who were at the bus rank left by foot. Some businesses, including stores and vendors around the bus rank closed immediately. Even schools around the city released pupils and asked their parents to fetch them as public transport vehicles were not operating. However, some of them were seen in town where the protest was taking place. During the protest, members of the public, who remained in the city, were found standing and sitting by the walls of the closed shops, which are not far from the bus rank.

On the other hand, the public transport workers occupied the Manzini Bus Rank/Manzini Central Public Road as they sang and danced to political songs. They demonstrated from Manzini Bus Rank towards Grand Valley (near Manzini Central traffic lights) and back to the bus rank. They occasionally marched towards Pep Stores along Ngwane Street and back to the bus rank. However, they spent the better part of the day toyi-toying at the intersection which is next to what used to be Mozambique Hotel.

While they were toyi-toying , a military police Toyota Quantum and a red Isuzu bakkie, which were both loaded with armed soldiers, arrived and drove towards the protesters. About six military men, who were armed with rifles jumped out of the kombi and some of them fired several warning shots. Thereafter, a hot pursuit ensued as the soldiers, who were followed by the military kombi and the Isuzu bakkie, chased after the protesters.

After that, the city was quiet for a while as most of the protesting public transport workers were by the Manzini Central traffic lights. Some of them are said to have relayed the message to their colleagues, who were still on their way to town, that they had been chased by armed soldiers. As a result, some public transport workers blocked the road at Ndlunganye in Matsapha, but again, after a while, soldiers and police officers came to disperse them. Later on, at around 10am, those who were by Manzini Central traffic lights marched back to the city and staged a demonstration at the intersection next to what used to be Mozambique Hotel.

A few minutes later, an army truck came speeding from the Manzini Centre traffic lights direction and a majority of the protesters ran away. The few who remained tried to tell them not to run away and they raised their hands in the air. Meanwhile, onlookers and some of the protesters shouted; ‘Abadubule’, meaning ‘they should shoot’. The soldiers responded by firing several warning shots and by that time, the public transport workers, who ran away when the soldiers arrived, came back and joined their colleagues in raising their hands. They shouted; ‘‘Senteni, dubulani (what wrong have we done, shoot us).”

Later, the police officers who were deployed to ensure peace and order, intervened by trying to calm both the protesters and the soldiers. They asked the soldiers to stand down and they retreated. The police then formed a barrier to block protesters from going near the military men, who also formed a line across the road, about 30 metres away from them. However, later on, the public transport workers forced their way through the police and soldiers ‘walls’ and marched towards Grand Valley. The soldiers followed them and again, they fired several warning shots, which resulted in the protesters running back to the city, where they regrouped and continued with their demonstration.

When they were running back to the city, they put stones on the road and a ‘barricade tape’ across the road. On another note, in their demands, the public transport workers demanded that their employers should pay their Eswatini National Provident Fund (ENPF) monies to the fund and that they should be paid overtime. They also demanded written contracts of employment for all public transport workers. Moreover, they demanded that all the country’s roads, which were pothole-riddled, should be fixed. They made an example of the strip of road from Manzini Bus Rank to Manzini Central traffic lights. On average, currently public transport workers earn about E2 000 to E2 500 per month.

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