The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, is very excited that the US cable news network CNN might be covering the Umhlanga or Reed Dance on Monday (31 August 2015).
The newspaper, described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa Swaziland chapter as a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family,’ reported on Wednesday (26 August 2015) that a ‘well-placed source’ that it did not name, said, ‘The Reed Dance is regarded a huge event internationally, so it is no surprise that international media like CNN is interested.
‘This will also be a good thing for Swaziland as it is accessible in many countries world-wide, all eyes will be on the reed dance.’
The Observer then went on to report that CNN ‘can be accessed by over 900 million people in the United States alone,’ a statement that is clearly false since the entire population of the United States is only 325,527,595. Indeed, in 2014, the number of viewers of CNN in the US during ‘prime time’ each day was only 515,000 on average.
It is not yet clear if CNN will be at the Reed Dance.
The purpose of the Swazi Observer article was to try to talk up King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Each year he holds the Reed Dance in which young women and girls who are supposedly ‘virgins’ dance bare-breasted in front of the King. Media reports in Swaziland suggest that about 90,000 ‘maidens’ have registered to take part in this year’s event.
Journalists at the Swazi Observer seem not to have noticed that international media cover the event each year. Unlike their counterparts in Swaziland who work under extreme conditions of censorship when reporting about the King, they tend to report the Reed Dance in context.
That means should CNN and other international news organisations attend the Reed dance we can expect them to report that King Mswati witnessed bare-breasted maids in their tens of thousands dance before him. They will also report (unlike their Swazi colleagues) that the King has at least 15 wives and some are younger than his own children. They will report that the King lives a lavish lifestyle, with palaces, a private jet aircraft, fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars and he likes to travel in luxury abroad.
They will report that in Swaziland political parties are banned from taking part in elections and that the King choses the government. They will also remind their audiences of the human rights abuses that regularly take place in Swaziland, including the jailing of journalists and trade union leaders.
They will also report that seven in ten of his 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, with incomes of less than US$2 per day; that Swaziland has the highest level of HIV infection in the world and that many people in the kingdom will this year starve unless they receive food aid donated by people who live in multi-party democracies.
We can be assured that they will report in this fashion, because that is how the uncensored international media always report when they visit Swaziland.
The journalists at the Swazi Observer might regret it very much if CNN does turn up.