The political dimension of Swaziland’s annual Reed Dance was at the fore this week as thousands of supposed-virgins were taught songs in praise of the kingdom’s autocratic monarch, King Mswati III.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and is about to become Chair of SADC, reported on Wednesday (24 August 2016) that they sang songs congratulating him on his new appointment.
In past years the maidens had been taught to sing songs denouncing political parties.
Swaziland is the only country within the 15-member Southern African Development Community where political parties are banned from taking part in elections. King Mswati chooses the government of his kingdom and none of the Swazi Senate are elected by the people.
The Reed Dance or Umhlanga is an annual event in which tens of thousands of bare-breasted ‘maidens’, some as young as ten, dance for the pleasure of the King. It is widely reported within Swaziland that the dancers are ‘virgins’.
Newspapers in Swaziland reported that 98,000 maidens had registered to take part in this year’s ceremony.
The Reed Dance, billed as Swaziland’s foremost cultural day, proved to be anything but in 2013 when 120,000 half-naked maidens reportedly sang a song praising the Kings then-recent pronouncement about his continued rule over his kingdom.
They praised the King for announcing that henceforth Swaziland would be a ‘Monarchical Democracy’. This was a new name for the already existing ‘Tinkhundla’ system that puts all power in the hands of the King.
The King said he had been told in a vision to make this change.
The song included these words (loosely translated from the original), ‘Your Majesty Swaziland is well governed through the Tinkhundla System of Democracy and will be victorious through it.’
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported at the time, ‘Royal Swaziland Police Superintendent Wendy Hleta who was the Master (sic) of Ceremonies together with Former Indvuna YeMbali Nothando Ntshangase noted that the maidens were seemingly pleased with the message conveyed by the new composition.’
The sinister nature of the Reed Dance was exposed in 2012 when about 500 children were ordered to sing a song vilifying political parties. This was part of a clampdown on dissent in the kingdom.
The children were taught a song to sing at the dance which had lyrics that when translated into English said political parties ‘set people against each other’ and said that if political parties were allowed to exist in the kingdom the King’s people ‘could start fighting each other’.
Political parties are banned in Swaziland, but there is increasing pressure from pro-democrats for this to change. Some traditional authorities also believe that support for the present system that puts them in control is on the wane. In Swaziland pro-democracy demonstrations have been attacked by police and state security forces.
CULTURAL REED DANCE TURNS POLITICAL
SWAZIS FORCED TO DANCE FOR KING