Children attending Swaziland’s Reed Dance next week are to be ordered to sing a song vilifying political parties as part of a clampdown on dissent in the kingdom, where King Mswati III rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
This is believed to be the first time that maidens in the Reed Dance have been used in this way.
The Reed Dance is usually described as one of Swaziland’s main cultural events at which ‘maidens’ dance (often semi-naked) before the king. In past years as many as 100,000 maidens, many as young as nine-years-old, have taken part in the dance. King Mwsati, who has 13 wives, has been known to use the event to choose himself an additional bride.
This year the maidens are being taught a song to sing at the dance which says political parties ‘set people against each other’ and claims that with parties the king’s people ‘could start fighting each other’.
Political parties are banned in Swaziland, but ahead of next year’s national election there is increasing pressure from pro-democrats for this to change. Some traditional authorities also believe that support for the present system that puts them in control is on the wane. In Swaziland pro-democracy demonstrations have been attacked by police and state security forces.
About 500 maidens were chosen from all 350 chiefdoms in Swaziland to attend rehearsals at Ludzidzini Royal Residence and the Correctional Services Institution in Matsapha to learn the song. They have been ordered to return to their homes and teach the words to other girls in their chiefdoms.
The Times Sunday, one of the few media voices in Swaziland independent of the king’s control, reported the song was composed by traditional authorities solely to be sung before the king the Reed Dance ceremony on Monday (3 September 2012).
The newspaper reported that traditional authorities believed that in South Africa during the apartheid period the youth drove the struggle in that country’s politics and therefore the youth in Swaziland should be made to push the agenda against political parties.
Lobayeni Dlamini, who worked with the maidens on the song told the Times, there were fewer people who stood up to defend the present political system in Swaziland and therefore there was a strong need to send a message.
Nothando Ntshangase, a notably traditionalist with strong links to the Reed Dance, said, ‘Those who are still not conversant with the lyrics are being taught by the ones already inducted in the song. During the main day of the reed dance, all the maidens are expected to showcase their talent in song before Their Majesties.’
The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a pro-democracy group banned in Swaziland, said the song proved ‘Swazi children are being brainwashed’. It said it was ‘shocking as it exposes the blatant abuse of innocent children to further political ends’.