Friday, September 4, 2015


The 13 people, mostly children, who were killed in a traffic accident on their way to Swaziland’s Reed Dance were victims, not heroes.

Yet, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, is trying to deflect criticism away from the King by telling its readers that these young lives were lost, ‘for King and country’. They were in the ‘service of the nation’ – defending Swazi cultural heritage.

The truth is different. The girls died because they, and thousands more like them, were forced to travel on the back of unsafe open trucks, jammed together cheek-by-jowl and unable to sit or move. In civilized countries cattle are transported in better conditions. 

There were at least sixty people on the back of one truck when it was involved in a collision on an open road on 28 August 2015. The victims were thrown from the back of the truck. Many died on the spot; some reports state that some were hit by oncoming vehicles. If the girls had been travelling in a bus they would almost certainly have escaped death.

The girls, reported in Swazi media to be ‘virgins’ or ‘maidens’, were on their way to the Reed Dance, where they were expected to dance bare-breasted in front of King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. The youngest ‘maiden’ to die was 11 years old.

The deaths (and the numbers that died is still disputed, at least 65 might be the true figure) were unnecessary. The girls should have been given safe transportation, but to do so would have meant hiring buses which would need to be paid for.

The King could afford to pay for safe transportation. He, with his 14 wives and vast Royal Family, lives in extreme luxury with 13 palaces, a private jet aircraft, and fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars. 

Meanwhile, seven in ten of his 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day. Last month, it was reported in Botswana that one of the King’s sons, Prince Majaha, aged 23, had a watch worth US$40,000 stolen from his hotel room. The cost of the watch equals about 55 years’ income for seven in ten Swazi people. 

The King uses the annual Reed Dance in a cynical attempt to influence international opinion into believing that he is an adored father of his kingdom, but his state which does not allow political parties to contest elections and has banned all opposition groups has been criticised by all the world’s major human rights observer groups.
Emotions are running high in Swaziland, where the King’s regime holds total power and any voices raised against him are silenced. Even so, dissenting voices are being heard, most notably on social media. Mainstream media outside Swaziland have questioned why the girls were forced to travel in such terrible, and unsafe, conditions. In South Africa they are reviewing their own methods for transporting people to similar cultural events. 

Now, the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, is trying to deflect criticism away from the King by declaring that the dead girls were ‘heroes’ of Swaziland. 

Fanyana Mabuza, a leading cheerleader for King Mswati, wrote on Thursday (3 September 2015), ‘[I]t cannot be denied that they [the girls who were killed] were on national service and like true cultural activists, died in the propagation of values that make us who we are.’

Mabuza added, ‘Hence, these women, as young as they were, could be said to have died protecting or defending this cultural heritage, passed down to this nation from many eons ago.’

The observer has been described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland chapter as a  ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’

Mabuza then goes on to suggest that future generations of children would want to follow the same fate as those who were killed.

Mabuza wrote, ‘Naturally, the deeds performed by heroes whether glorious or villainous (depending on which side of the fence you sit) should be celebrated and documented for posterity. Future generations must know of their deeds so they could wish to emulate them.’

Mabuza added, ‘Just like the parents of some of the girls expressed their gratitude that their children were being recognised for dying for the king and country, a fitting monument for them could further enhance their legacy, while also demonstrating that as a country, we fully honour those who die in service of this nation.’

No public inquest into the circumstances of the accident has been announced. The King has made no public statement about the causes of the accident. The Swazi Government, which is not elected, but handpicked by the King, has not announced an inquiry into the accident.

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