The honest Swazi nation

The Doctor and I are in Swaziland, attending the wedding of two good friends. It’s my second visit here, and it is no less alien to city-slickers the second time around. Mbabane, the capital city, has a “CBD” that seems to stretch out over many kilometers, encompassing such attractions as the “Mediterranean Restaurant” as well as derelict houses aplenty. And driving involves the skillful avoidance of a fair number of mangy dogs and cows. Everything looks like it needs a paint-job.

But despite these obvious indicators of poverty, everyone seems to have time to help, or to chat – unsurprising, perhaps, in that there may not be much else to do. It appears far removed from the individualism of social interaction that you get used to, at least in Cape Town. The formula of the “how are you?” question-and-response actually has implications here – if you play it wrong, you get surly service, as I discovered when checking in to the hotel. Walking up and saying “Hi, we have a reservation under the name Rousseau” didn’t seem as it would get us very far – The Doctor (a quasi local) had to step in and say some magic words before progress could be made.

The webAnother indication of how seriously communitarian they are is provided at the border, where (after you fight your way through the crowds), you are confronted by this reminder of how the responsibility to ensure social order is a shared one.

“The honest Swazi nation” has a web for entangling anyone who engages in corrupt activity, which seems a fine concept, and one which we South Africans are in dire need of. Perhaps the Swazi model isn’t to be emulated in its entirety, though, as corruption seems to have a peculiar definition here – allowing for King Mswati to maintain a monopoly over telecoms, for example, as well as first pick of any fair maiden who takes his fancy.

The church in Swaziland also appears to be in on it’s share of corruption. The most entertaining Swazi Times today reports that a local pastor has had his salary frozen (because of “issues”), resulting in uproar amongst the congregation, who are clearly aggrieved that the pastor will not be collecting the 65% share of the tithes to which he is entitled. But, since “several members of the church are big shots”, I imagine he’ll get this issue resolved soon enough.

So far, it’s been a most enjoyable trip, despite the fact that our hotel room door doesn’t close properly, and the TV which slowly fades out after about 5 minutes of viewing, while the audio continues uninterrupted. With the casino right next door, and the wedding later today, the room is really just for storage and sleeping, so we won’t be too fussed if they can’t move us. After all, privacy seems to be low on priority lists here too, as the Doctor discovered on our walk to breakfast while passing a room, where the fully opened door revealed a fully unclothed woman.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.