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The prince who would not be king.

Persistent rumours of an imminent uprising against the rule of King Mswati III have been making the rounds in the foreign press for several weeks now, but the rumours are only an exaggeration of actual conditions in the misunderstood kingdom, where even pro-democracy groups and banned political parties profess, publicly at least, their allegiance to the King.

The rumours were triggered by a series of protests against the evictions on 14 October of residents of two chieftaincies who refused to be ruled by the King's brother, Prince Maguga Dlamini.

"We wish to see King Mswati serve as a constitutional monarch, above politics," said Jan Sithole, secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, which opposes the evictions.

A meeting planned to discuss the matter by the unions was banned by the government under a colonial-era Public Order Act, which the British put in place back in 1963 to stifle pre-independence political unrest.

The law is still in force, and the government invoked it to ban indefinitely all trade union meetings. But both the Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers have vowed to hold their meetings across the border in South Africa.

The troubles started on 14 October when 200 residents of Macetjeni and KaMkhweli were rounded up in the dead of the night during a joint army and police raid. They were transported to an open field 100 kms away where no provisions had been made for their survival, according to the Swaziland Baphalali Red Cross Society that provided them with tents, food and clothing.

One reason for the neglect was the government's expectation that once the evicted people saw their plight, they would shift their allegiance from the chiefs of Macetjeni and KaMkhweli to Prince Maguga. One elderly woman, Thembisile Mabuza, related: "When the soldiers came to take us away, they said we could return as soon as we apologised to Maguga."

An unusual history surrounds Prince Maguga. By custom, he is King Mswati's father, and his own father's brother.

Back in 1898, the Transvaal government then administering the "Swaziland Territory", indicted Mswati's grandfather, King Bhunu, for the murder of a palace councillor. Bhunu was acquitted, but not before he fled to Natal to seek the British protection.

He stayed at the kraal of King Dinizulu, where he was promised a Zulu bride. Bhunu died the following year, but the pledge of a wife had to be honoured. And it was eventually, by Bhunu's son, King Sobbuza, in the 1920s. He stood in for his father when he took a Zulu maiden to be his father's wife and his own mother. The offspring of this union was Prince Maguga, who has subsequently enjoyed a high status at the palace.

But the 75-year-old prince has not been in good health recently. He has been in hospital with severe diabetes. This explains why, after eight years of seeking the two chieftaincies to rule, he pressed the Swaziland National Council's Standing Committee to expedite the evictions. The Committee is made up of King Mswati's palace councillors, one of whom is Prince Maguga himself.

"When I die, one of my sons will rule, and then his son," Maguga once said.

But in a country where 80% of the people live on communal Swazi National Land, and under palace-appointed chiefs, Prince Maguga's attempts at land grabbing have caused great consternation. Even more so when every Swazi has an ancestral home built on so-called "king's land".

For this reason, explains Vusie Ginindza, editor of the Sunday Times newspaper, "everyone is watching what is going on closely, because we all feel insecure. If all those people can be evicted for defying the dictates of a prince, nobody's home is safe anywhere."

The Swaziland Nurses Association agreed when they took the unusual step of refusing to treat the prince, who is protected by police guards both in hospital and at home.

The evictions so angered the students of the University of Swaziland that they twice attempted to march to the Lozitha Palace to register their displeasure with King Mswati, who, by convention, is the chancellor of the University. But they were repelled by riot police, using tear gas and rubber bullets. Later, the three-campus university system, along with William Pitcher Teachers College, was closed down for three weeks.

At the time of going to press, the "internal exiles", as they are described by the Human Rights Association of Swaziland, remained in their tented netherworld, and had become a source of national concern.
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Author:Hall, James
Publication:New African
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6SWAZ
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:751
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