Southern Utah University hosted a Forum on Hope, in a Time of War, Natural Disaster and Instability on April 5 in the Great Hall. The Forum’s goal was to provide the SUU community with an outlet to converse about our shared experiences with global conflict.
The event began with displays of art produced by SUU students Natalie Christiansen, Aubrey Bodine, Parker Grimes and other students which showed their emotional responses to the conflicts happening abroad like the war in Ukraine.
SUU student Brenna Fangupo with family ties to Tonga and international student Mpilo Nkambule began the conversation for the Forum by discussing the natural disasters that occurred in Polynesia this year and the ongoing political conflict in Eswatini, an autocratic country.
On December 20, 2021, Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha‘apai, a volcano located near the Polynesian islands, erupted. 15 days later, Tonga was hit by a devastating tsunami and ashfall that caused damage estimated at $90.4 million according to an assessment by the World Bank.
At least 80% of the population was affected by the natural disaster including Fangupo’s family who lives on the island.
The tsunami destroyed homes, businesses and isolated the country for two months without cell and internet service.
“Everyday I woke up for school wondering about Tonga and whether I would be able to contact my family,” Fangupo said. “Hope and faith is what kept me going.”
Eswatini, previously named Swaziland, in South Africa has been facing political turmoil throughout its independence from British colonization. Sobhuza II, the previous king, created a monarchy-autocratic government which took the democratic power from the citizens.
Nkambule is from Eswatini and he explained the problems his family and he have faced throughout this political conflict.
Nkambule explained that his country is riddled with political instability and this started with the country’s colonization by Britain in 1871.
When Eswatini gained its freedom on Sept. 6, 1969, King Sobhuza II suspended the constitution of 1973 which created an autocratic government which was inherited by his son, King Mswati III. In 2005, the constitution was revised to maintain power for the king.
“The king owns all the key businesses and doesn’t pay taxes, but he still determines what happens to the collective,” Nkambule said. “The people want the power back.”
Nkambule explained that three legislatures spoke out for representative democracy against King Mswati III and spontaneous revolution occured around the country. The king felt threatened by the unrest and ordered his army to retaliate.
During Eswatini’s protests in June, a report released by the commission of human rights indicated that at least 46 people died and 385 people were insured from gunshot wounds and other injuries.
“What inspires hope in me is the people that are working underground who have an unfading belief that freedom will come,” Nkambule said. “Their willingness to go up against guns when they don’t have guns inspires me to keep going in such a terrible time.”
Article and photo by: Danielle Meuret