Friday, October 6, 2017


Some people in Swaziland have been refused national identity cards because of their hairstyles.

It happened at a time when schoolchildren across the kingdom, ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, queued for IDs following a new rule that they had to have them to sit examinations.

Officials at BMD [registration] offices refused to take photographs of applicants they considered had inappropriate hairstyles, the Swazi Observer reported on Friday (6 October 2017).

The newspaper said, ‘They said they were told by one of the officers that if they had hairstyles, they had to fix them and return to the BMD offices with their natural hairstyles.’ 

One boy interviewed by the newspaper had a Mohawk hairstyle, which he wanted to appear on his ID. The newspaper quoted him saying, ‘I am here for my ID and have this hairstyle that I want to appear in my ID because it defines who I am.’

Home Affairs Principal Secretary Anthony Masilela told the newspaper, ‘We usually advise people against doing hairstyles because that might compromise the natural appearance on their ID cards. If they insist on being photographed with their hairstyles, no one can prevent them from doing that.’

People in Swaziland have been discriminated in the past because of their personal choices. At the last national election in 2013. Mana Mavimbela, aged 18, drew international attention to the undemocratic poll when she tried to have herself nominated to stand in the primary election for the House of Assembly. The official presiding officer, employed by the Elections and Boundaries Commission refused to allow her to do so because she was dressed in jeans.

Mavimbela was not the only woman discriminated against at the nominations because she was wearing pants. Fakazile Luhlanga of Ndvwabangeni in the Mhlangatane constituency was also not allowed permission to nominate a candidate as she was wearing cargo pants. 

Local media reported Luhlanga saying she was told that she was dressed like a man and would be a bad influence to the community members as they would want to emulate her.

Some chiefs across Swaziland imposed a ban on women wearing trousers, shorts or mini-skirts at nomination centres. Chief Petros Dvuba of Mpolonjeni in Mbabane, the kingdom’s capital, said people who would be going to the nominations should dress properly and show respect as it was King Mswati III’s exercise.  He told local media, ‘Even those who have relaxed hair should cover their heads when going to that place.’ 

In a separate incident away from the election, Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers.

Also, three women in Dvokolwako in Swaziland were summoned by ‘traditional authorities’ for wearing trousers after elders in the area had banned them. One woman said someone reported her after she was spotted wearing jeans as she was walking to the shops. Another woman was said to be wearing pants at her home when she was charged.

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