“Without the King, there will be no culture”, shares Swaziland Princess Sikhanyiso. She hosted at the annual Reef Dance.
Umhlanga festival commonly known as the Reef dance where young women from all over the country comes together to celebrate their chastity of being virgins, dancing topless.
This is also where the King of Swaziland comes to choose his next wife. Last count with 13 wives and 3 fiances although 2 of his wives left him by running away.
The polygamous King took a new wife at the festival who was 2 years younger than the Princess in 2006.
Last weekend, I watched a documentary “Without the King” about Swaziland. The documentary directed by Michael Skolnik gives a subtle view of the country without vomiting its western judgements onto the viewer.
Skolnik’s documentary follows Princess Sikhanyiso, eldest child of the Swaziland ruler from her country to her first year of christian college in California and the plight of Swaziland people.
The documentary contrast the lavish lifestyle of the royal family, the multiple palaces to house each of the king’s wives and his offsprings to the disparity of the Swazi people living in impoverished shacks. There are glimpses of the growing political revolt and mis-content of its starving people. One shocking scene at the beginning shows a Swazi village where people cook raw animal intestines that they ravage a garbage dump and the mis-management of the government who fail to provide running water to an agriculturally fertile land.
Swaziland is a tiny country nestled between South Africa and Mozambique, is the last remaining functioning monarchy of the African Nations. Ruled by King Mswait III, the last absolute African monarch, Swaziland has one of the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, about 35-40% of its population. Swazi people face a startling life expectancy around 31 years of age.
It is also one of the poorest country in Africa where people face starvation and poverty, GDP per capita was $5,500 (estimated in 2005), 34 per cent of the population are unemployed. 69% of its Swazi people live with less than us$1 a day.
Politically, there is a constitution. the King has a nominal government with the prime minster, cabinet and legislative body chosen by him. Opposition parties are banned, any protest or rallies for a more constitutional democracy is often squashed by the police. The country’s human rights record is also one of the worst in the world which is largely ignored by the International Media.
The documentary also shows while the King becomes more oblivious to the dire situation plaguing the country, the Princess self-indulgent views of her country slowly falters. She gives a hint of insight about the monarchy troubled by its internal power struggles between the royal family, about her mother Queen LaMbikiza, often anointed as the Rebel queen. Sidenote what the documentary didn’t mention and soap opera potential: The Queen received a law education via a correspondence degree from a South African University. Married at age of 16 when she met the King at an annual reef dance. She was once accused by the royal family of attempting to poison the king and had fled to London before returning to the country upon the king’s request.
In the last scene of the film, the Princess shows her concern and ponders about the possibility of having a revolution in her lifetime while she visits a AIDS children orphanage casting a little hope of a monarchy reform and political consciousness.
A high task for her if she ever tries to reform her country against the wills and political aspirations of a large royal family filled with 200 of the King’s own siblings and their families, 25 children of the King and his growing number of wives. A more likely scenario would be a civil war and the abolishment of the monarchy altogether. An optimist would prefer a monarchy reform, but if history has proven over centuries, power corrupts and for those in power throughout history of mankind, who has ever gave up their wealth and riches for poverty and obscurity?
Update : Apparently this documentary is banned in Swaziland for being seditious.