Nurses in Eswatini are refusing to treat police officers as they accuse them of shooting colleagues during a pro-democracy rally on Wednesday.
Pro-democracy protests in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, formerly known as Swaziland, have swept the country since June.
The government, which denies that security forces used live ammunition, has now banned all demonstrations. but today nurses were protesting at three different hospitals.
Earlier this week, health workers and other public sector employees, who went to deliver a petition to parliament demanding better living conditions, were met with an “unprecedented show of force”, the Swaziland Democratic Nurses Union (SDNU) said.
Thirty nurses were injured as the police and army opened fire and a young bystander was killed, the union added.
Describing the security forces as a “brood of vipers”, SDNU called on all nurses “in solidarity with the shot nurses not to treat a police official”.
Union president Welcome Mdluli acknowledged that this goes against the principle of treating everyone, insisting that that his members were now scared of the police.
“We have reports of police shooting health care workers inside the hospital… we are scared of them,” he said.
Mr Mdluli now wants a guarantee from the ministry of health that nurses will be safe before the treatment boycott will end.
The authorities have said that no-one was shot and that the police on Wednesday were trying to disperse a rally that they believed was going to turn violent.
Eswatini’s Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku said that the police were deployed to protect property.
“There is no truth in all of it – there are police shooting people in the street,” he retorted..
A delegation from the regional grouping, the Southern African Development Community, is currently in the country to meet King Mswati III, as well as some involved in the pro-democracy movement.
The health workers have joined students, transport workers and others in a wave of protests calling for major constitutional reforms that will allow them to elect their own leaders.
The demonstrations have also been fuelled by the stark inequalities in the country. In 2016, just under 60% of the population were living in poverty, according to the World Bank.
Student protests led to the indefinite closure of all schools on Monday, a move that was criticised by UN Secretary General António Guterres.
Some internet services were also briefly shut down on Wednesday in response to the wave of demonstrations.
By Eric Knight