The Father, the Son and the Fight Over Their King

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The Father, the Son and the Fight Over Their King

A student’s vow to overthrow one of Africa’s last ruling monarchs faces a roadblock: his own father, a soldier sworn to protect the throne.

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By John Eligon

Photographs by Joao Silva

John Eligon and Joao Silva spent weeks in Eswatini documenting the fight over the king.

Feb. 17, 2024, 5:01 a.m. ET

The riot police appeared out of nowhere, charging furiously toward the young protesters trying to oust King Mswati III, who has ruled over the nation of Eswatini for 38 years. The pop of gunfire ricocheted through the streets, and the demonstrators started running for their lives.

Manqoba Motsa, a college student, and his fellow Communists quickly slipped into disguise, pulling plain T-shirts over their red hammer-and-sickle regalia. They ducked down a sloped street and raced away, thinking that, somehow, they had escaped.

Then Mr. Motsa’s phone rang: A close friend at the protest had been shot. They found him splayed on a bed in the emergency room, a bloody bandage around his torso, a tube in his arm.

“We can’t stop fighting,” the wounded protester, Mhlonishwa Mtsetfwa, told the dozen red-clad Communist Party members surrounding his hospital bed. “We’ll do this until our last breath.”

Across much of Africa, that anger is palpable in restless young activists, like Mr. Motsa, who are pushing, protesting and at times risking their lives to remove long-reigning leaders they view as barriers to the continent’s true potential.

While the world grays and nations worry about collapsing without enough workers to support their aging populations, Africa — the youngest continent, with a median age of 19 — sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. It boasts ample young people to power economic growth and global influence.

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