Swaziland's Senate President Gelane Zwane has been 'banned' from attending parliament for up to two years because she is a widow in mourning. Minister of Labour and Social Security Winnie Magagula has met a similar fate.
Magagula was stopped from attending the opening of parliament on Friday (16 February 2018).
The two senior politicians have been caught up in Swazi tradition which dictates that a woman should mourn her husband for two years and in that time must stay away from public office and not be close to the King and his mother. King Mswati III rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.
Zwane confirmed to the Times of Swaziland newspaper that she would be staying away from parliament where she is leader of the Senate. It is also speculated that she will not be eligible to stand in the national election due later in 2018, nor can she be appointed to any official position until two years have elapsed. Her husband Michael was cremated last week.
Meanwhile, Magagula was stopped from attending the official opening of parliament where King Mswati made his annual speech from the throne. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Paul Dlamini told her not to attend. She separated from her husband Enock Mfanyana Magagula in 1994 and he died last year.
The Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported (18 February 2018), 'Magagula revealed that the DPM also informed her not to come close to any royal residence, Parliament and anywhere where Their Majesties were present. The minister said when she queried Dlamini on the suspension she was told it was according to Swazi culture.'
The newspaper added, 'She stated that she would follow the directive by the DPM seeing as he was her elder and she was socialised into obedience.'
The DPM said Magagula could continue her duties as a minister.
The issue of Swazi culture and mourning contradicts Section 28 of the Swaziland Constitution which guarantees that women have the right to equal treatment with men, including equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.
Women in Law in Southern Africa Swaziland Chapter Director Colani Hlatshwayo told the Sunday Observer mourning culture put women at a disadvantage. She said Swaziland had signed United Nations' treaties that encouraged women to participate in politics.
Simangele Mtetwa, who is responsible for gender issues in the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), told the Swazi Observer (19 February 2018) the action against Magagula was, 'Totally unacceptable, and I condemn it in the strongest terms it deserves. This paints a gloomy future for all women in the country.'
She added if the authorities were serious about the development of the kingdom such practices needed to stop because they were discriminatory in their nature.
There was a major row at the election in 2013 when Dumisani Dlamini a chief's headman in Ludzibini, an area ruled by Chief Magudvulela a former Swazi Senator, threatened people would be banished from their homes if they nominated Jennifer du Pont, a widow, for the upcoming election.
The Times Sunday reported at the time, '[Dlamini] warned that those who would nominate her should be prepared to relocate to areas as distant as five chiefdoms away. Her sin was that she attended the nominations only a few months after her husband died.'
The newspaper reported, 'He said she should still be mourning her husband.'
The Times reported Du Pont did not wear standard black mourning gowns and was dressed in a blue wrap-around dress known as sidvwashi.
Enough people in the chiefdom defied Dlamini and Ms du Pont was duly nominated.
In April 2017, Elections and Boundaries Commission commissioner Ncumbi Maziya told a voter education meeting at Bulandzeni Chiefdom that women in mourning had a constitutional right to stand for election.
However, the Swazi Observer (3 April 2017) reported, 'He said a person wearing a mourning gown was not allowed to be near His Majesty the King. If a certain constituency elected a person in such a situation, it was highly possible that the woman could not attend the Parliament opening event, where the King would also be in attendance. Maziya said that was when a woman would have to exercise conscience by at least standing by the gate of Parliament, to avoid being near the King.'