26 August 2014

Swaziland: Swazi Girls Face Public Whipping

Photo: Darron Raw
King Mswati III, centre (file photo).

Girls who do not turn up for King Mswati III at the forthcoming annual Umhlanga Reed Dance in Swaziland will be publicly whipped.

They have been told that if they travel to the event in which tens of thousands of bare-breasted girls dance in front of the King, but do not attended the ceremony, they will be beaten on the buttocks when they return to their homesteads in Mbilaneni.

Thami Thikazi, the headman of the Mbilaneni chiefdom, said if parents disagreed with the punishment they would be forced to wield the lash themselves.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported Thikazi saying, 'In case parents distance themselves from such, we are going to order them to be the ones administering the punishment in the form of strokes on the buttocks should it be found that they (girls) did something intolerable. The punishment will take place in full view of everyone.'

Tens of thousands of girls and young women known as 'maidens', from all over Swaziland attend the ceremony at Ludzidzini each year. It is billed as a tribute to the King and his mother, but in past years it has been noticed that many of the maidens do not attend the ceremony, preferring instead to go off to have fun with their friends.

More than 50 maidens from Mbilaneni have been chosen to attend the Reed Dance this year. Thikazi said in order to be chosen to represent the chiefdom they had to 'be of good morals and upbringing.'

He added, 'We therefore have to see to it that they face the music once they misbehave and parents should be ready to discipline.'

The sinister nature of the Reed Dance was revealed in 2012 when about 500 children were ordered to sing a song vilifying political parties. This was part of a clampdown on dissent in the kingdom, where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.

The children were taught a song to sing at the dance which had lyrics that when translated into English said political parties 'set people against each other' and said that if political parties were allowed to exist in the kingdom the king's people 'could start fighting each other'.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland, but 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.

This was not the only year in which children were compelled to sing the king's praises. In 2009, the South Africa Press Association reported, 'During the four-hour event, children sang songs which glorified Mswati and condemned his enemies.

"This land is your land our king, your enemies want to destroy you," they sang.

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King Mswati III, centre (file photo).

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