Sunday, January 2, 2011


The next time King Mswati III, Barnabas Dlamini, the man he illegally-appointed Prime Minister, and their hangers-on, say that Swaziland is on its way to becoming a ‘First World’ nation, show them this blogpost.

A Swazi High Court judge ruled this week that women are the property of their menfolk.

Justice Mbutfo Mamba was hearing an argument between the husband and father over who had the right to decide on the burial of a deceased woman.

The husband believed he had the right, but the in-laws said this wasn’t so because they had never sanctioned the marriage.

Attorney Mbongeni Simelane, on behalf of the in-laws, told the High Court that even if the deceased woman was married she was still a minor and therefore her parents still had the rights to determine where she would be buried.

‘In Swazi Law and Custom women are perpetual minors and the deceased was no exception,’ he said.

The court was told about the marriage customs in Swaziland (that definitely have no place in a First World nation).

They go like this: the husband’s argument was that he was legally married to the deceased by virtue of smearing her with the red ochre (libovu). He said that he sent to his in-laws the ceremonious meat (Umsasane), which he said was accepted by a member of the family.

The Swazi Observer reported that the in-laws argued that though the family member was present, he was not the rightful person to accept umsasane. Further they said umsasane was never accepted by them.

The husband’s lawyer, Ian Carmichael, argued that in Swazi Law and Custom, the smearing of the red ochre constitutes marriage. ‘However, his in-laws disputed this, saying the marriage was invalid because they rejected umsasane. By rejecting it, they stated they did not approve the union between the two.

‘They said the purported marriage did not comply with all the customary requirements validating marriage such as lobola,’ the Observer reported.

Simelane, for the in-laws, said that smearing the deceased with the red ochre was not enough validation to the marriage.

‘Further, the rejection of the ceremonious meat was proof that the marriage was not accepted’ by the in-laws, Simelane argued.

Justice Mamba found for the in-laws on the grounds that he was not convinced that the deceased was married in terms of the Swazi Law and Custom.

Readers will notice that in this dispute over the marriage, the views of the woman concerned were never taken into account. This High Court case conforms what all Swazi women know: when it comes to their rights the Swaziland Constitution (s28 (1) is a good place to start) isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

We should also be worried about the High Court judge’s willingness to ignore the constitution, which we should consider as a ‘modern law’ (befitting a ‘First World’ nation) in favour of ‘Swazi Law and Custom’ (which is a feudal law).

But, this decision is hardly surprising because feudal law favours King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, who sits at the top of the feudal pile. All people below him must defer to his wishes.

Swaziland on its way to becoming a First World nation? You decide.

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