As Covid-19, the deadly virus that first reared its ugly head in China, swept across this kingdom and the rest of Africa, it has exposed emaSwati to the sad reality that in this country there are two sets of rules; one for the ruling elite and another for the commoners. In May this year, King Mswati III urged emaSwati to strictly follow direction from the ministry of health but right at his doorstep, the opposite happens, writes VUYISILE HLATSHWAYO
While King Mswati III has cancelled cultural festivities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in eSwatini, his lieutenants at the Ngabezweni Royal Residence have openly undermined his efforts.
In May this year, in his only public address since the outbreak of Covid-19, King Mswati called on emaSwati to strictly adhere to the regulations published by the ministry of health.
But at the royal residence in mid-August, the regulations were flagrantly breached during the continued initiation of new warriors, known as kubutseka insiSwati.
The Sunday Observer newspaper splashed pictures of one of the regiments’ headmen, Lutfwacula Fakudze, initiating businessman Chris Kuhn. Neither they nor the other people in attendance wore masks during the ceremony.
The witnesses included two representatives of the legal profession – a judge, Ticheme Dlamini; and an advocate, Hlul’emakhandza’ Mabila. Also present were 15 members of the Inkhanyeti regiment.
Fakudze thanked Kuhn for recognizing the king’s authority and siSwati culture by joining the regiment.
Under eSwatini’s Covid-19 Regulations the use of face masks by all people in the presence of others is compulsory. Failure to comply carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail or a E25 000 fine.
On 15 April Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini made it clear that the police would act accordingly when they come across people breaking the lockdown regulations. In a press briefing, he warned: ‘If you are found to be violating these regulations, the law will definitely take its course, and we won’t compromise on this. We would like to encourage members of the public to abide by these regulations, there shouldn’t be a need for the law enforcement to force you to respect these regulations.’
There had been a number of media reports of police, army and correctional service personnel beating people during the lockdown. Recently, the members of the Royal Eswatini Police Service beat up residents of Murray Camp on the outskirts of Manzini found in breach of the regulations by drinking liquor and not wearing face masks.
The Rev. Zwanini Shabalala-led Human Rights Consortium is also investigating the shooting of a 15-year-old boy of Gege area who was shot and wounded by police when he was playing football with friends on open ground during the coronavirus lockdown
About 2km away from where the initiation ceremony took place along the Mbabane-Manzini Highway stood a gigantic billboard with King Mswati III wearing a mask. Its message in both English and siSwati read “Wear a mask all times… Vikela kwandza kwe-COVID-19”.
Said Indvuna yemabufto Fakudze: “We are grateful that an investor has found it important to pay allegiance to the king.”
Kuhn told the Sunday Observer that he found it important for people to respect their cultural traditions.
“Kubutseka for me is a sign of showing respect to the king because I really fail to understand how one live in Eswatini and not pay allegiance to His Majesty King Mswati III,” said Kuhn.
The Governor of the Ludzidzini Royal Residence, Lusendvo Fakudze, defended the ongoing initiation of warriors against the backdrop of the cancellation of other cultural activities.
He argued that only one warrior was initiated at a time, and that the only contact was the initial step of introducing the initiate to a small group and running back and forth to fetch water with a bucket (inkilinga). He likened it to the Christian baptismal rite.
The Covid-19 regulations state that “traditional leaders …shall exercise authority within their jurisdiction to ensure that the provisions of these regulations are enforced at chiefdom and community level”.
In early August, King Mswati cancelled this year’s two-leg Umhlanga Reed Dance at Ludzidzini and Mbangweni royal residences because of the Covid outbreak.
The seven-day main event was slated for August 25 to September 1 at Ludzizdzini Royal Residence. This year’s cancellation had a devastating effect on the tourism sector. According to eSwatini Tourism Authority (ETA) research and statistics officer, Sebenzile Ginindza, a total of 44 520 international visitors visited the country during last year’s Reed Dance, with hotel occupancy averaging above 80%.
The dance remains one of the biggest and most spectacular cultural events in Africa. According to last year’s media reports, more than 100 000 local girls attended the event, as well as some from South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Kuhn’s initiation happened a day after Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini’s launch of the E30 billion post-Covid-19 economic recovery plan to be driven by the private sector. It also took place in the Manzini region, eSwatini’s Covid-19 hotspot.
A Covid-19 study conducted by a University of Eswatini public health lecturer, Mduduzi Shongwe, found that still few emaSwati adhere to the laid down Covid-19 preventative measures.