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Wednesday, 26 March 2008


The award-winning, but highly controversial, documentary that claims Swaziland is close to a state of revolution has finally reached Swaziland.

DVDs of the documentary called Without The King are now circulating within Swaziland. It is impossible to buy the DVD legally in Swaziland - possessing one would be an act of sedition - but imports have been passed around the kingdom over the past days.

According to the documentary’s own publicity it ‘captures the birth of a nation’s revolution’. I’m not convinced that anything in the DVD really justifies that statement, but there are scenes where ordinary people in Swaziland talk about their dissatisfaction with the ruling elite – including King Mswati III.

It is impossible to hear such views in public in Swaziland where most media are government controlled and the so-called ‘independent’ newspapers are scared to criticise the king.

Remember, in 2007 the Times of Swaziland group of newspapers was threatened with closure after the Times Sunday published mild criticism of the king and the way he was thought to put off foreign investors with his lavish lifestyle. The newspapers were forced to apologise humbly or be closed.

Without the King – the title doesn’t come from a wish to see the king deposed, rather it is a line from the king’s eldest daughter Princess Sikhanyiso who says ‘Without the king [Swaziland] has no culture’- contrasts the lifestyle of the Swazi Royal Family with ordinary people in the kingdom. In Swaziland about 70 per cent of the population live on less than one US dollar (E7) per day.

Without The King visits Moneni Township to witness near-starving people eating intestines they have scavenged from a rubbish tip. Their water supply is no larger than a puddle.

In another part of the documentary political activists speak about their desire to change Swaziland.

One activist says, ‘Nations are like babies; they don’t just stand up and walk. But now it is clear to everybody, we can’t take this any longer. By tomorrow, we can mobilize thousands; people can get to the streets. We have that power; we have that capacity to do that.

He goes on, ‘We cannot go to South Africa and ask for guns, we cannot go to America and ask for guns, but we can creep at night with our knives and kill them …. A knife is about 20 rand, today we can do it. It’s only time and proper organizing.’

The documentary shows a second political activist saying, ‘The government belongs to the king that is why now the buck rests with him. If his people are failing to deliver the basics, the ones he appointed, not the people, definitely, they’re going to point fingers at him.

‘If we are going to have a constitution that is driven down the throat of the people, without their mandate, that is dictatorship.’

He goes on, ‘For instance, yesterday I was prepared to die for the struggle. But today I don’t want to die for the struggle. I want to kill for the struggle.’

There are more scenes of criticism in the documentary that make the ones above seem mild. Without The King is so critical of the monarchy that I am sure anyone in possession of the DVD in Swaziland would be committing an act of sedition, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

Without The King won the special Jury Prize at Hot Docs film festival in Toronto, Canada, last year (2007). It has been shown all over the world, but it is thought that now is the first time it has been seen in Swaziland.

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