Things are often late in Swaziland. This year, even winter is late (the weather is glorious, cool nights and bright, sunny days). The official invitation to the Day of the African Child Commemoration arrived at the office just twenty hours before it was due to start.
A small team from MSF drove out to Swazi National High School to take part in the march to Kwaluseni Inkundla (community offices), thinking that we had plenty of time. We had just arrived at nine o’clock when the Royal Swazi Police Band struck up the music and marched out of the school compound. Behind the police were the Siphumelele Primary School Drum Majorettes, followed by majorettes from the Kwaluseni Central and Infant Schools. Then came a mass of children, swarming out of the school gates like an angry amoeba on steroids.
The team joined the march with the MSF banner held high. Well, hand high. It was lost among the excited pupils who were milling around, trying to link up with their friends. The children behind us were pushing us in the back, stepping on our heels and making walking in close formation uncomfortable. It was like being caught up in a Zulu impi army, massing to overwhelm Michael Caine, Stanley Baker and the redcoats.
I stepped out of the march to take some photographs and video. I just can’t help myself. There were a few policemen trying to control the expanding mob of children, who were walking faster than the police band. They also had to deal with traffic trying to pass the march in both directions. Teachers with megaphones did their best to confine the marchers to one side of the road. I am glad to say that I say no violence being used.
We passed a school where the children were penned into the school yard. Perhaps they were not coming to the event. They hung onto the wire fence and waved to their colleagues who were getting the day off. I took some photographs of the local shops.
“Internash Proffetional Welding” – well, you know what he was trying to say, don’t you?
“Classic Fast Food” with pictures of a burger, fries and cola on one side, and an ice cream cone on the other. In the middle, there was an image of a plate of food with white, green, yellow, red and brown blobs on it. Possibly pap with multiple relishes.
“Lindo’s Fish & Chips Spazo” was a converted container painted Manchester City blue. It was up on palm trunk blocks at one end. There were a few ventilation holes at three corners and the makeshift roof looked like it needed some repairs.
“Portugal Boy” (Blessed Iz Thy….Portugal Boy) was selling tea and takeaway hot chips.
The march took a sharp right turn and headed towards the main highway between Manzini and Mbabane. It was really important that the marchers didn’t stray out of the slow lane. We walked off at the next exit and took a break to load up on fluids. A gaggle of pre-school children holding balloons were waiting for us at the bottom of the slip road. They were ushered into a slot behind the police bass drummer and glockenspieler. They did a little dance to the music but it became obvious that they would not be able to keep up when the march restarted. So they were shuffled into the front of the march and the police band kept pace with them.
Some of the marchers were adults from non-government organisations, such as UNICEF and Save the Children. One lady had an interesting shoulder sack with a slogan which read “Bo Sugar Daddy, Na Bo Sugar Mama”. I think I understand the message it is trying to convey.
We arrived at the Inkhundla at 10 o’clock. There were four marquees set up around a dusty parade square. Swaziland TV were setting up. The public address system was working. The MSF team claimed a table in the NGO tent and set out our literature concerning sexual and gender based violence. The organisers wanted a senior representative of MSF to sit with the bigwigs in the tent with the best view and most shade. I jumped at the chance of being able to network with the bosses of other organisations.
I chose my spot carefully, so I could take photographs easily. I sat in the second row of plastic seats on one end, away from the Deputy Prime Minister’s table, and not on the cloth covered chairs for VVIPs. Some of the majorettes sneaked into the back rows but were evicted.
The senior psychosocial counsellor at Matsapha Police Station recognised me in my MSF teeshirt . Well, I was the only mlungu in the village, too. He introduced me to his boss, who complimented me on MSF’s work with survivors of sexual violence. She said, “But what happens after you’ve gone?” I replied that MSF would be here for quite a while yet. “No, after YOU have gone,” she repeated. “Oh, I am sure that MSF will replace me with someone who has my skills,” I answered. “No, if you leave Swaziland and a court case comes up two weeks later, how are we going to verify your evidence?” “In that case, you will have to subpoena me and I will come back to Manzini to testify,” I said. I discussed how the MSF medical officer could “stand in” for a colleague who has left, just the same as at the local hospital, where the medical superintendant vouches for the accuracy of medical reports done by doctors who have left. We are going to discuss this further.
After the obligatory prayers, the Regional Administrator said more than a few words and the show kicked off with Phocweni Primary poetry reading and Sibonile Preschoolers jiving about with their balloons. There were a dozen speakers, all but one speaking in siSwati, but I’m pretty sure they were all saying essentially the same thing. It is traditional, everyone needs to say their bit. Between the speeches, we had poetry, drama, music, costumes, modern and traditional dancing. Kwaito dance, Lutsango, Ummiso and finally, Sibhaca. Just like Sunday Night at the London Palladium (showing my age).
The modern dances involved lots of pelvic thrusting of both sexes. Their music was disco with a thumping beat, and very raunchy lyrics (though I am not sure anyone listened to the words). Police vans and vehicles bringing food drove around the performers to get to the Inkhundla building where lunch was to be served.
The dramas were about bullying, betrayal and unwanted pregnancy. From the guffaws of the school children in the audience, they were preaching to the converted. In mind, perhaps, but not in the flesh. There were some punch ups going on in the crowd between performances.
The stars of the show were the young men from Swazi High School (probably in the Upper Fifth) who were on at the end. They were dressed in twee miniskirts (blue/yellow/red bands), white woolly leg and arm warmers, scarlet scarves, pink feathers in their hair and brandishing metal sticks. First of all, they positioned the drums, oil barrels sawed in half and covered in cowhide. Then the backing choir, wearing black western clothing, took up their places. Finally, the stars of the show arrived and sat among the choir.
Sibhaca involves synchronised dancing, stamping, stick thrusting and kicking as a group. Individual dancers come to the fore and do their thing, then return to the fold. One man threw some shapes, then pimp-walked up to the Deputy Prime Minister, licked his forefinger, stroked it sensuously down his shoulder, turned on his heel and sashayed back to the group. This drew howls of laughter. How could such a butch guy (even if he is a brilliant dancer) act so camp!
At 1:30 pm, Senator Paul Dlamini, the Deputy Prime Minister, spoke to camera in both siSwati and English, giving the penultimate speech. The PA system didn’t pick up his voice well, and the hungry children became rowdy, with the smell of beef and chicken in the air. Despite an organiser interrupting the DPM’s speech to berate the children and commanding them to listen, the mob continued to rule.
The final speech was given by the Chiefs’ Representative. It was a long vote of thanks. The speaker looked very distinguished with white hair and a beard, but his shirt had a print showing a lady in a bikini. He obviously not learned from the wardrobe mistakes of Matt Taylor who wore a top featuring women in lingerie during the European Space Agency’s live stream of the Philae landing last year.
Everyone left the VIP tent to get their lunch at the Inkhundla. I went over to the MSF stall and asked how it was going. Business had been very quiet. The children had been very excited by the performances and now that food was being distributed, they were queuing up to be fed. Half a dozen girls asked for some leaflets when I was there. Still, it was useful to do some networking with other agencies involved with sexual violence.
“Did you eat, Dr Ian?” asked one of the team.
“No, I came over here to find out how you were getting on.”
They had already eaten so they urged me to get some food. By the time I reached the Inkhundla, the doors were locked by the DMP’s security guards. The UNICEF ladies said the food was unpalatable anyway. We loaded up the vehicle and went back to the clinic.
Wami, Wakho, Wetfu