Each time I drive on the NR3 highway between Manzini and Mbabane, I am distracted by a rocky peak, Execution Rock. It is set apart from the ridge of hills which form the southern rim of the Ezulwini valley. Srinu was impressed by it, too. Here he is posing by Shoprite in The Gables Shopping Centre carpark, with Execution Rock in the background.
It has a macabre past history. Legend has it that miscreants who had been sentenced to death were marched up to the summit and offered the honourable option of leaping to their deaths. If they refused, they were goaded and prodded by spears until they plunged over the cliff. The siSwati name for the peak is “Nyonyani”, which means little bird. Perhaps a reference to the criminals flapping their arms as they dived to oblivion.
For the past eleven months, I have been telling myself that I ought to climb it before I leave. Last weekend was just three weeks before the end of my contract, so it was now or never. Accompanied by two doctors (my new walking buddies, Ann and Yuan), we parked the car by the dam in Mlilwane Game Reserve and set off on the summit trail.
All animals are protected in the Reserve, including Dung Beetles. I have seen two of these creatures co-operating in rolling a ball of manure along a path. I have even seen two males fighting each other over a female. Or it might have been a lump of pooh. But I have never seen a mob of dung beetles getting stuck into a recent pile of steaming shit. I wondered why this particular gnu pat was so attractive. Perhaps because it was fresh and malleable. The beetles lay their eggs in the dung ball and roll it somewhere safe before burying it. They mate underground, depositing their eggs into the dung so their offspring have a first meal ready for them. According to Wikipedia, they are the only non-human creatures known to navigate by the Milky Way. But why do they need an astral signpost to get anywhere?
We had made an early start, but already at 10am it was getting hot. We tramped up the track, enjoying the flowers and birds.
As the path became steeper, shade became rarer. Finally we scrambled up the rocks to reach the top and were rewarded by superb views. To the north west, across Lushushwana River we could see two pointed hills called Sheba’s Breasts. You can’t really make out the resemblance to bosoms from the road, but you can from the summit of Execution Rock. With the eye of faith, you could even imagine the gulleys running down the slope are like stretch marks.
Directly below us was the new US embassy. It is the huge building in the centre of the photograph. The British Foreign Office pulled out of Swaziland completely some years ago, leaving behind just an Honorary Consul. The Americans look like they are in Swaziland for the duration in their “bunker”.
A group of Taiwanese health workers joined us on the summit. We took each other’s photographs, flashing obligatory peace signs and staging pictures where a smiling doctor seemed to be falling over the cliff.
Looking south to the Mhlambanyatsi River and the Mlilwane Dam, we could just make out a tiny white dot which was our car. It took us half as long to get down as it did to climb. I offered to show my colleagues the white-throated bee eater burrows in a dried up donga. Unfortunately, we only saw one bird emerge from the cliff. These pictures are from a previous visit.
On the path back to the car, I wanted to see how much dung the beetles had disposed of. They had all vanished, presumably leaving the rejected leftovers. Or maybe they realised that Dr Yuan might be interested in collecting and drying dung beetles – qianglang (蜣蜋) – to make traditional Chinese medicine, used to cure ten different diseases.