South Africa police use rubber bullets on Swazi protest

JOHANNESBURG – South African police shot and injured at least one person with rubber bullets on Wednesday when they tried to disperse a crowd trying to blockade a border crossing with Swaziland in a political protest, police said.

Mpumalanga provincial police spokesman S

uperintendent Izak van Zyl said police fired at protesters at South Africa’s Matsomo border crossing near the Swazi kingdom’s northern tip, injuring at least one.

At least 25 people were arrested at Matsomo and other border posts when activists sought to blockade all traffic to demand political reform in the tiny African kingdom.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which joined Swazi pro-democracy groups in organising Wednesday’s protests, said eight people were wounded in the shooting incident and protested strongly to the government.

“They are in hospital in serious condition, they are bullet wounds,” said COSATU chief Zwelinzima Vavi.

The protesters were demonstrating against the rule of Swaziland’s King Mswati, who critics accuse of tightening his grip on the tiny country of 1 million people, using a new constitution to entrench royal rule and maintaining a ban on organised opposition parties.

“COSATU is appalled by the conduct of police and will be taking this up with the utmost urgency with the government and the SAPS leadership,” the union said in a statement.

Vavi said at least five senior trade union leaders had been arrested at another border post during a synchronised protest aimed at pressing demands for political reform in the kingdom, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy.

Police said they regretted using force but added that it was necessary after protestors disobeyed orders to disperse.

“They (protesters) started to blockade … such that traffic couldn’t go both into and out of South Africa. They were picketing in the middle of the road and that is against the law. It was like in a war situation … in confrontations like this people get hurt,” said Benjamin Bhembe, police spokesman in Nelpruit near the Swazi border. — Reuter