A businessman with only one leg was barred from meeting King Mswati III of Swaziland because he would not be able to kneel before the monarch.
Peter Petersie, aged 54, of Hlatikhulu, who was leading a group of businessmen, wanted an audience with the king at the Mbangweni Royal Residence to discuss development matters. But, he was told that because he had one leg, he could not kneel down as required by custom when before the king.
He was barred by Lindiwe Dlamini, the outgoing Housing and Urban Development Minister.
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported Petersie saying, ‘I am still shocked by the way Dlamini treated me, it was the highest standard of discrimination I have ever seen in my lifetime.’
He added, ‘We went there to deliver two cows to the king and I was in charge of the funds and having got inside Mbangweni Palace with a colleague, Minister Dlamini said I could not see the king because I have only one leg.’
He said, ‘I have contributed in building the economy of Swaziland and I do not deserve to be blocked from seeing the king, despite my disabled condition I am a productive Swazi citizen hence, I should not be discriminated against but treated as a human being.’
The treatment of Petersie is not unusual in Swaziland, where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and requires every Swazi, regardless of their rank, to kneel when they are before him. In August 2013 a group of disabled people in the Ngcamphalala Chiefdom of Swaziland, said they were ‘treated like animals’ by traditional authorities in the kingdom.
A group called the Association for People Living with Disabilities said they were concerned that a local development by Swaziland Water Agricultural Development Enterprise (SWADE) which empowered people through agricultural schemes such as growing sugar cane had excluded them.
Sifiso Nhleko, chair of the local Association for People Living with Disabilities, group told local media, ‘The chiefdom’s inner council has let us down as they have done nothing to include us in the development yet they know that we exist. They have not approved our involvement in the development.’
He added, ‘We are also human beings and deserve to be included in development. People without disabilities treat us as if we are animals and government and development agencies do not take us into consideration when implementing development.’
Disabled people in Swaziland are marginalised by traditions and superstitions.
A report published by SINTEF Technology and Society, Global Health and Welfare in 2011 that studied living conditions among people with disabilities in Swaziland, found, ‘There is a general belief that those who have a disability are bewitched or inflicted by bad spirits.
‘Many believe that being around people with disabilities can bring bad luck. As a result, many people with disabilities are hidden in their homesteads and are not given an opportunity to participate and contribute to society.’
The report was the result of an extensive study in the kingdom in 2009 and 2010.
It also found that people with disabilities had been abandoned by the Swazi Government. The report stated, ‘The absence of any comprehensive laws and policies to address people with disabilities’ access to equal opportunities reflect a lack of political will and a failure to recognize disability as a human right issue contributes to the devaluing and dehumanising of people with disabilities.
DISABLED PEOPLE ‘TREATED LIKE ANIMALS’