By Nimrod Mabuza
It is just more than a year since eSwatini police cracked down on pro-democracy protestors, gunning down over 45 civilians and injuring many more. A teenage boy who was shot in the back by police on his way to the shops during the unrest survived, but he and his family are paying dearly while no-one in the police has been held accountable.
Maqhawe Lukhuleni (17) of Lomahasha was shot on the back on July 4, 2021, and left for dead in an open veld. It was a miracle that he got to hospital and got the surgery he needed to survive. But, he is now paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. He may never walk again and his dreams and aspirations have been shattered.
While he was fighting for his life in hospital, doctors working around the clock to extract bullets from his body, two other men from Lomahasha paid with their lives when they confronted the police officer who allegedly shot Lukhuleni.
S’gubhu Mxolisi Nyoni and Mpostoli Masilela approached the officer on July 18, 2021, demanding to know why he shot their young friend and pointing out that the officer knew Lukhuleni and knew that he was an innocent bystander who was not involved in the civil unrest.
The confrontation, according to an eyewitness, got heated and became about the leadership style of King Mswati III and the notorious Tinkhundla regime.
Incensed by derogatory remarks directed at the king, the police officer, who was one of those recruited from royal residences, reportedly rushed back to the police station, picked his service rifle and found the two men at a night vigil where he shot and killed them both.
Police Commissioner, William Tsintsibala Dlamini, in a radio broadcast, condemned the shooting of the two men and the police officer was arrested. He is currently awaiting trial on two counts murder.
However, the police officer, like many in the security forces who mowed down tens of emaSwati, has not been charged for the shooting of Lukhuleni but for the later shooting of the two men.
Government has ignored calls for a full investigation into the unrest and into the shootings of emaSwati citizens.
Life in a wheelchair without money
On the day that Lukhuleni was shot, his mother, Bonisile Groening, had just scraped together enough to pay E2 500 for her son’s Form 1 year at Lomahasha High School. After her son was shot, she had to give up her job as a domestic worker in South Africa so she could be home to look after her son. As a single parent, she now doesn’t earn a monthly income and battles to put food on the table to feed her three children. She also cannot afford the medical costs for her son who has to make frequent trips to hospital to be checked by a doctor.
At times, medication is not available at the hospital. All the doctors can do, when there is no medication, is to write a prescription for the family to buy the drugs at pharmacies on their own. The family once kept the prescription for so long that it had expired before they had enough money to buy the medication.
Groening also struggles to raise funds for transport to take her son to hospital. Good Shepherd Hospital, in Siteki is the nearest. It is situated about 65km from Lomahasha
Like every child, Lukhuleni had hopes and aspirations in life. He wanted to be a pilot. Like many boys his age, he spent hours playing football in the dusty streets of Lomahasha, a border village east of eSwatini.
“All that is gone now. As you can see him, now he spends most of his time sitting on his wheelchair outside the house if the weather permits.
“With our rugged pathways, he cannot go even to the shops. Even pushing him around is a problem. He looks so sad,” said Groening.
Now that one of her son is confined to a wheelchair, the little money she can raise goes towards his upkeep.
As a result, his younger brother was expelled from school for owed fees.
“I pleaded with the headteacher to transfer the E2 500 I had paid just before Maqhawe was injured to his younger brother, but he refused insisting that Maqhawe should come back to school. But how will he get there in this terrain?” she posed the question expecting no answer.
She said for transport to and from hospital, she has been getting assistance from Pudemo’s international relations officer, Siboniso Mkhabela who is resident at Lomahasha.
“The outreach team at Good Shepherd Hospital has also been very good to us. Sometimes, when resources are available they offer an ambulance to bring him back or deliver the medication here at home.
“Sometimes, they come and check on him. Mkhabela, whenever he is available, also provides us with his car to take him to and from hospital,” she said.
She clarified that at times, the relevant medication would not be available at the time of medical check-up and the team from the hospital brings it to Lomahasha once it is available.
Mkhabela was also concerned about the welfare of the family, indicating that a solution is being sought.
A women’s organization, Swaziland Rural Women Assembly (SRWA), popularly known in siSwati as Sicandvulo Sabomake has also been of great assistance to the family, providing food aid.
While this family doesn’t have the funds to engage a lawyer to try and fight for some kind of financial compensation from government, crowds gathered in Lomahasha on the anniversary of Nyoni and Masilelala. The streets were a hive of activity. While Pudemo activists organised the gathering to commemorate the shooting and name a road after the two men, armed police, uniformed and in plain clothes, as well as soldiers were also out in full force to stop the gathering which they did. The community was not even allowed to lay wreaths where the shooting took place. The street signs had to be erected on private property and some members of Pudemo were detained but later released without any charges.