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Friday, 15 February 2008


I wrote last Tuesday (5 February 2008) about how you can learn so much about culture in Swaziland by reading the Swazi newspapers, even when journalists don’t realise they are teachers.

Here’s another example. It shows how much ordinary people in Swaziland have to bow down to their chiefs. If you are a young person and you upset the Big Man you could have your future ruined.

This report was in the Times Sunday (3 February 2008).

MANZINI – For the past two weeks Swazi children hoping to further their education outside the country were faced with the daunting task of coming face to face with the Scholarship Board.

The interviews were held at the Manzini Nazerene Nursing College and the announcements were made over national radio.

Most of the hopefuls that were interviewed by the Times Sunday said the most crucial question was ‘who is your Chief?’

For the students who fumbled that question they were asked if they were serious about their future.

‘You do not know who your chief is and you are hoping to get a scholarship seriously,’ said one hopeful when asked how her interview went.

She said they gave her such a tough time that she was on the brink of tears. I am not saying it’s right not to know your chief, but I can’t believe I could lose my whole scholastic future because I forgot a certain name,’ said the student.

She said luckily for her she was able to remember her chief’s name after she was given a second chance.

Chiefs sign the scholarship forms once the scholarship is granted.

The signing of the scholarship forms is only half of the story. Chiefs in Swaziland are personally appointed by King Mswati III and traditionally they lead a band of area elders. They can decide who lives where and some have been known to banish people from their homes for not obeying rules. Sometimes chiefs demand tithes from their subjects such as a beast or money.

Chiefs also settle disputes such as over land, accusations of witchcraft, and wandering livestock that harm someone’s crops. Many also settle criminal disputes that probably should best be left to magistrates.

Chiefs are given stipends by the national treasury, but not salaries, and community members pay their allegiance to chiefs by weeding and harvesting their fields, and constructing the traditional mud and thatch huts usually found at chiefs’ homesteads.

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