Mallory Primm
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The King’s Birthday and Other Political Matters

April 20, 2009 @ 6:43 AM | Permalink

Swaziland is an anomaly politically. Indeed it is this very reason that I am able to do research at all. I found Swaziland particularly interesting because it has a state sanctioned dual court system of formal Roman-Dutch style magistrate’s courts as well as traditional Swazi National Courts which arbiter on smaller matters as well as matters of the euphemistic Swazi Law and Custom. But the dual court system is the least glaringly intriguing aspect of Swaziland’s government. Going around Swaziland this month it is impossible to ignore that it King is celebrating his 41st birthday.

Although less extravagant than last years “40/40 Celebration” which commemorated the King’s 40th birthday as it coincided with 40 years of Swazi independence, this year’s celebration also was quite an affair. On every light post (working or not) between the airport at Matsapa, the industrial center in Manzini and the capital in Mbabane hangs a banner with the King’s face smiling out alternating with the traditional Swazi shield and Spear. The newspaper on Friday included a 52 page “King’s Birthday Supplement” that followed the king from birth through his recent meeting with Mugabe and the recently ousted president of Madagascar, Ravalomanana. The entire newspaper is littered with large ads by various Swazi and foreign companies and organization expressing fond birthday wishes for the King.

But despite the adoration, the King doesn’t really seem to be the greatest guy. Despite his expensive taste in cars, his affinity for polygamy and ability to take advantage of every photo opportunity with foreign leaders (including a constant parade of businessmen from Kuwait and Dubai) the King doesn’t seem to be too involved in the country’s politics, which seemed to have steamed up of late.

The King signed a new constitution into effect in 2005. There is a 30 member Senate, 10 of which are elected by the House of Assembly, 20 of which are appointed by the King. The House consists of about 75 members, 10 of which are appointed by the King. Of note, the constitution also provided from free primary education by 2009. Well, here we are in 2009 and the protestors (some being beaten by police and some beating the police) on the streets are a good indication that this has yet to be achieved. A union took the government to court over this discrepancy and the High Court ruled that the government indeed legally did need to provide free primary education. The government responded by issuing a press statement in the newspaper effectively saying, “We’re trying. Hold tight ‘til 2015.”

Another issue that tends to make the news are the sinister activities of various groups outlawed by the Suppression of Terrorism Acts. This includes every political party. Although we joke about the destructive behavior of politicians, very few can be deemed terrorists – unless you’re in Swaziland. Here outlawed parties’ leaders are jailed, and as one case currently being heard at the High Court insists, tortured. It sounds faintly reminiscent of an old party called the ANC and a man named Nelson.

Despite all the political hiccups, the stadium at the trade fair grounds in Manzini were packed with people baking in the sun to celebrate the King’s birthday. Men showed enough thigh beside there animal skin loin cloths to make this girl blush and every other woman wore brightly colored cloth tied around her shoulder, usually with the King’s face on it. I stood in the sweltering heat, pressed against several other sweaty bodies listening to the King, in full military uniform, make promises to his people.


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A good lesson for us all

Nicolle OConnor on Country Western and other Music in Swaziland 2009-06-11

just wondering if you have published any results?

David Broska on Into the Field 2010-06-19

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