eSwatini police, crowd clash during wage, pension fund protests

MBABANE (Reuters) - Public sector workers clashed with police in eSwatini on Tuesday, as they marched through the streets of the country’s second biggest town as part of wider protests to demand higher wages and reforms to the way the state pension fund is managed.

Several workers were wounded and police fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd in Manzini, the country’s second biggest town and industrial center, according to a Reuters witness, as demonstrations which organizers said would continue until Thursday also took place in the capital Mbabane, Siteki and Nhlangano.

There were no reports violence or injuries in those three towns.

Formerly known as Swaziland, the landlocked southern African country of 1.4 million is one of the world’s poorest nations and the continent’s last absolute monarchy.

It has witnessed three sets of protests by public servants seeking better pay, education and healthcare since April, when the pension fund contributed $70,000 to lavish birthday celebrations for King Mswati III.

The king is accused by critics and rights groups of using the public purse to fund his family’s lavish lifestyle, which he denies.

A union leader said they planned to present a petition to the government on Thursday demanding that probe into the circumstances of the birthday payment, which the cabinet ended in June, be reopened.

In Mbabane on Tuesday, a man addressed onlookers through a megaphone from a car that was driven around the city, urging them to join the protest.

National Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula said on Monday that protesters should not provoke police, which Njabulo Dlamini, a union leader, said on Tuesday his members had not done.

Police and the government spokesman were not available for further comment.

Reporting by Lunga Masuku; Editing by James Macharia and John Stonestreet