I have often thought of public officials in Swaziland as a bunch of overgrown schoolchildren.
They squabble and bicker amongst themselves and sulk when they don’t get their own way. Sometimes, they even throw tantrums in the houses of parliament and get sent home to cool off.
Now I am beginning to understand why they behave like children – it’s because they are treated like kids.
Today’s newspapers in Swaziland contain reports of an ‘orientation’ that new members of parliament have been attending. Among other things they are being told how they should behave.
They have been told they mustn’t visit bars or other ‘watering holes’. Nor must they engage in nightlife or excessive partying. It sounds just like the restrictions a parent might put on their offspring: ‘Curfew at 10pm on school nights’ – that sort of thing.
According to the Times of Swaziland yesterday (30 October 2008), ‘Senate president Gelane Zwane said no MP was expected to be seen in bars and nightclubs as that could have an adverse effect on the image of Parliament, as well as that of the kingdom.’
‘“You should not be seen in places like Yemfo Bar drinking yourselves silly because you now have to be exemplary to the citizens out there, especially youngsters,”’ Zwane said.
(Zwane also said the MPs should be patient for the coming five years while they are legislators after which they could drink themselves till kingdom comes.)
The MPs were also urged to wear school uniforms. Well, all right I made that bit up, but the women were told they mustn’t wear ‘mini skirts’ defined as anything above the knee.
In a different report in the Times we were told the main reason for this ban was that the sight of female thigh would turn the male MPs on and they wouldn’t be able to concentrate on their work. No, really, I didn’t make that up.
It does make the male MPs out to be no better than adolescent boys who can’t keep control of their libido. It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘upstanding member of parliament’.
Still on the theme of ‘parental advice’ to the children, the MPs were warned not to have sex (especially with ‘pupils and anyone under the age of 16’).
Again, according to yet another report in the Times, ‘The legislators were strictly advised that should they engage in unruly sexual behaviour they were bound to be exposed by the media because members of the fourth estate were always on the lookout for such occurrences.’
The newspaper went on, ‘The MPs were further told to avoid sexual relations amongst themselves as that too could lead to trouble once the relationship hits the rocks.’
The whole ‘orientation’ would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. It demonstrates to me that the ruling elite do not see the new intake of MPs as responsible legislators ready to help Swaziland to tackle the problems it faces. Instead they are treated like a bunch of naughty schoolchildren, unable to think for themselves or decide on what is appropriate behaviour.
We have not been told what will happen to the MPs should they be found to break the rules, but they should remember that in Swaziland naughty children get spanked. Who will play headteacher? Somehow I think newly-appointed Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini wouldn’t think twice about wielding the stick.