27 November 2017

Swaziland: Chief Punishes Residents With Fine

Residents in Swaziland have been fined for not attending community meetings and paying 'homage' to their chief.

About 20 families have been affected in in the Southern Hhohho region, according to a newspaper report in Swaziland.

It happened at Mvutshini where 20 homesteads were fined E900 each (US$64) 'for not attending community meetings and not paying homage to the Ezulwini chiefdom,' the Observer on Saturday reported (25 November 2017).

In Swaziland seven in ten people live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day.

The newspaper added, 'They were also given at least seven days to each settle the amount or they would face the wrath' of the main chiefdom at Ezulwini where Sifiso Mashampu Khumalo is chief.

In Swaziland chiefs are appointed by King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Chiefs are considered to be his direct representative and they have enormous power over their subjects. In June 2017 Chief Somtsewu Motsa of Lushishikishini threatened too banish all single mothers from the area he rules over to ease the burden to the community of children born out of wedlock.

The Observer on Saturday (17 June 2017) said Chief Somtsewu Motsa had called a meeting of all 'single mothers, pastors and those known to have impregnated girls without marrying them'. The newspaper reported, 'Reliable sources said the traditional authorities were threatening to evict anyone to be seen to defy the chief's order.'

This was not an isolated incident. It is through chieftaincies that the King maintains control of his people and chiefs do his bidding at a local level. People know not to get on the wrong side of the chief because their livelihood depends on his goodwill. In some parts of Swaziland the chiefs are given the power to decide who gets food that has been donated by international agencies. The chiefs quite literally have power of life and death in such cases with about a third of the population of Swaziland receiving food aid each year.

Chiefs can and do take revenge on their subjects who disobey them. There is a catalogue of cases in Swaziland. For example, Chief Dambuza Lukhele of Ngobelweni in the Shiselweni region banned his subjects from ploughing their fields because some of them defied his order to build a hut for one of his wives.

Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers.

In November 2013, the newly-appointed Chief Ndlovula of Motshane threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a E5,000 (about US$500 at the time) fine, the equivalent of more than six months income for many.

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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