Formerly known as Swaziland, Eswatini has been going through civil unrest since June this year as calls for political reform have filled the streets. Photo: File
“Please send me the article when it is done; we are not allowed foreign news in this country,” was how a heartfelt interview with Comfort Ndzinisa, the director of the documentary film The Unthinkable, ended.
Filled with sadness, I promised to do so and imagined at that moment the real horrors of what might be happening in Eswatini.
Formerly known as Swaziland, Eswatini has been going through civil unrest since June this year as calls for political reform have filled the streets.
The revolution which present-day Eswatini is experiencing is a continuation of the struggle that began in 1973 for constitutional democracy, which saw political parties soon banned in the kingdom as whispers of discontent echoed
When citizens rallied for more democratic governance this year, they were met with the death of a law student named Thabani Nkomonye, who died at the hands of police.
Students called for an investigation into his murder, petitions were sent to constituencies from young people who called for a democratically elected prime minister, and the backlash from the government meant that it would eventually ban all petitions and continue to attack civilians who were now looting and rioting in the streets and in schools.
Hundreds were shot at and many others were killed. Even parliamentary members were arrested.
Ndzinisa, a creative and filmmaker based in the kingdom, makes his mark in history with The Unthinkable.
Serving as the executive producer and director for the film was territory unknown for Ndzinisa, who studied mathematics and is still passionate about science, technology, engineering and maths.
I did get into filming when the pandemic began and even shot a doccie about Covid-19. It’s more of a hobby, and I didn’t expect this documentary to generate as much exposure and awareness as it did.
The idea for the documentary came at the height of the unrest, as claims circulated that armed forces were using excessive force on unarmed civilians.
Its a story all too familiar, much like the murder of US citizen George Floyd in May 2020, also at the hands of law enforcement. However, Eswatini’s governance took it a step further by allegedly tear gassing children and injuring peaceful citizens.
As government continued to deny claims of abuse of power, Ndzinisa took it upon himself to document the events so history would never be forgotten.
“I made multiple short videos with an old friend, Manqoba Nxumalo. One time he had a three-minute video of a man who was shot by police whose leg had to be amputated, and he asked me to edit the footage. I recommended a retake and the retake gained momentum and got bigger with more victims. Twelve witness accounts and two more people who lost their loved ones during the shootings, that’s all it was, but these people were survivors and they needed to tell their stories.”
As the youth fight for democracy, Eswatini continues to be ravaged by violence. Photo: Sourced
“It was also important for me to let people know that there was help through the non-governmental organisation Eswatini Solidarity Fund, which was formed with an aim to assist victims and survivors of the brutality of armed forces. It’s the same organisation I worked with in documenting the stories as they were making visits to the victims.”
The documentary opens with a devastated grandmother who lost her grandson in the protests.
“He wasn’t really on the streets; he left home and said he was going to collect something. Yet it was death calling on him. They shot him,” the woman cries as she recalls the fateful day.
With a cellphone and a goal, Ndzinisa was able to capture the rawest moments of the savagery that the Eswatini police were inflicting on innocent people.
“It’s not right! Some lost breadwinners, others lost parents and some lost children … I went out looking for stories of people who had experienced drowning, only to realise they were still drowning.”
“Some deaths resulted from a lack of immediate medical attention because they were left to die. Some survivors are facing medical complications and can’t be assisted because of lack of funds. People have been amputated. Their struggles are worsened with each passing day.”
“I hoped that if the government realised how much damage it had caused it would minimise further damage as the unrest continues by making informed decisions and assisting the survivors. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.”
One of the victims of the violence is now an ampute. Photo: Sourced
What began as a project to inspire hope translated and resonated in the hearts and minds of the world. The Unthinkable has aired in the US, Norway, Taiwan, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and on SABC’s Cutting Edge.
Ndzinisa notes the messages of solidarity that are pouring in calling for peace; and even though change is slow, he acknowledges the several arguments now happening between political activists and police forces with regards to the shootings that resulted in at least 20 deaths.
I hope the documentary settles that argument. The numbers don’t even matter, what matters is that it happened and that the world needs to know what we are going through. We need intervention.