Show Less
Open access

Fictions of African Dictatorship

Cultural Representations of Postcolonial Power


Edited By Charlotte Baker and Hannah Grayson

Fictions of African Dictatorship examines the fictional representation of the African dictator and the performance of dictatorship across genres. The volume includes contributions focusing on literature, theatre and film, all of which examine the relationship between the fictional and the political. Among the questions the contributors ask: what are the implications of reading a novel for its historical content or accuracy? How does the dictator novel interrogate ideas of veracity? How is power performed and ridiculed? How do different writers reflect on questions of authority in the postcolony, and what are the effects on their stories and modes of narration? This volume untangles some of the intricate workings of dictatorial power in the postcolony, through twelve close readings of works of fiction. It interrogates the intersections between real and literary space, exploring censorship, political critique and creative resistance. Insights into a wide range of lesser known texts and contexts make this volume an original and insightful contribution to scholarship on representations of dictatorship.

Show Summary Details
Open access

8. The One Who Does His Majesty’s Bidding: Censorship and the Banality of Power in siSwati Crime Fiction and Drama (Kerry Vincent)

← 154 | 155 →


8    The One Who Does His Majesty’s Bidding: Censorship and the Banality of Power in siSwati Crime Fiction and Drama

While many writers across the continent have discussed the figure of the African dictator in their fiction and drama, in Swaziland literature the potentate’s presence is made most notable by his absence. SiSwati writing generally appears to sidestep potentially controversial topics. Instead it seems content with presenting variations on the same parochial themes, as Clara Tsabedze claims,1 laying it open to the kind of criticism Mazisi Kunene levelled at black South African writing in an article published in 1968. Kunene labelled this writing ‘situational literature’ continuing to say, ‘it deals with factual situations, without drawing any significant conclusions; … the writers lend themselves to the requirements of the school audience and purge their works of any paragraph, word or phrase, that might be deemed subversive by missionary and government standards’.2 Kunene’s judgement was meant to be an indictment of bantu education under the apartheid regime, and certainly a good deal of siSwati fiction goes beyond this kind of desultory scribbling, but factors like self-censorship and school audience that influenced early writings by Swazi authors have persisted as forces that have helped shape Swaziland literature.

Like many other African nations, Swaziland struggled to achieve self-representation by reforming a colonial education curriculum and introducing literature written by local authors. Because of its colonial history and attendant influence by missionaries from South Africa, formal use of its ← 155 | 156 → mother tongue, siSwati, was stifled by English and isiZulu, both of which were the languages of official record up until independence in 1968. When siSwati was finally introduced into the curriculum after 1968, education authorities introduced a series of workshops in an attempt to nurture budding siSwati authors. What followed soon after was a literary output tailored for the education market, a trend that has continued up to the present. However, much of the literary production has been influenced by an autocratic state that uses a traditionalist ideology to suppress freedom of expression. Many of these elements converge in the publishing history of Eric Sibanda’s siSwati detective story, ‘Sagila Semnikati’ (The Owner’s Knobkerrie). The story’s original setting – the royal grounds where the Ncwala ceremony takes place – was quietly removed in the second edition of the anthology in which it originally appeared.3 Subsequently, the ritual site reappears in a radio play adaptation of Sibanda’s story written by Swazi actor and playwright, Sibusiso Mamba.4

Often dubbed Africa’s last absolute monarchy, Swaziland is less known for its written literature than for its annual public rituals, its oral performances which draw large crowds of tourists and journalists. Every year in a ritual of its own the global media descend on Swaziland during the time of the Umhlanga, and then again for the Ncwala.5 For outsiders, while the former promises a display of thousands of bare-breasted maidens, one of whom might be chosen to become King Mswati’s next bride (at the moment, he has fourteen wives, according to some sources6), the latter – the Ncwala, or ritual of kingship offers the supernatural and secretive aura of primeval ceremony. For insiders, while the Umhlanga reinforces ← 156 | 157 → the allegiance of the king’s subjects and ensures the king’s patrimony, the Ncwala fortifies his position as ruler and shapes the consciousness of the nation. Or at least that is the official narrative, a stance that increasingly has led to a great deal of largely muted discontent. The pomp and ceremony of Mswati III’s appearances and the excess represented by his fleet of luxury cars, his private aeroplane, and his bevy of wives, each with her own palatial residence, in a country with the grim distinction of having the highest HIV/AIDS infection in the world,7 along with a devastating poverty level, constitute grotesque and obscene displays that mirror Achille Mbembe’s notion of ‘the banality of power’.8

Certainly, the Ncwala is a manifestation of Mbembe’s assertion that ‘the postcolony is a particularly revealing (and rather dramatic) stage on which are played out the wider problems of subjection and its corollary, discipline’.9 Alan Booth notes that Mswati II (who ruled from approximately 1825 to 1865) gave the Ncwala ‘unprecedented emphasis as an annual ritual reaffirmation of the symbiosis between himself and the nation …’.10 Following the example of his father and their royal predecessors, Mswati III has continued the celebration as a means of consolidating power and gaining the approbation of the general population. Its ancient origins as a first fruits celebration linked to the astrological movement of the sun and the moon, its highly ritualistic design, concluding with the elemental conjuring of fire and water, its dramatic display, indeed, even the vocabulary used to describe its components – water priests; pilgrimage; warriors; sacred enclosure, for example – these combined elements produce an extremely powerful drama of kingship. This is most cogently exemplified by Hilda Kuper’s observation, ‘When there is no king, there is no Incwala’,11 ← 157 | 158 → which so economically gathers together two strands of the ritual: power and performance. In effect, the king is the Ncwala, so any rendering of the ceremony into fiction, either positively or negatively, becomes an implicit representation of the monarch.

While the Ncwala is a religious ceremony, it is also a ritual of kingship and an affirmation of national identity. Kuper notes that its function is ‘to protect the King, symbol of the nation, against rivals from within, and enemies from without’.12 This dramaturgy of power is intimately linked to the ruling elite’s manipulation of tradition and ideology of traditionalism, which ostensibly rests on adapting useful practices from the present to a bedrock of traditional values.13 Thus, in the name of tradition, following the general election in 1972, Sobhuza II had repealed a Westminster-style constitution imposed upon the country by Britain in 1963 that limited his influence, and announced that he would rule by decree. He outlawed political parties, regulated the number of people who could hold meetings, and introduced an order-in-council that would allow the detention of anyone for up to sixty days, measures that were only revised prior to the October 1993 election. By 1978 Sobhuza had established a reconstituted tinkhundla system (ostensibly modelled after ancient Swazi traditional councils) that in effect bypassed parliamentary democracy. Hilda Kuper writes that under this system ‘individual rights … were subordinated to the interests of an autocratic aristocracy’.14 A year after King Mswati III’s accession to the throne in 1986, during a speech to mark his nineteenth birthday, he reaffirmed his father’s vision: ‘I have the unshakeable belief in tradition, and still wish that the entire African continent would follow their traditional norms and choose only what suits them from western traditions’.15 ← 158 | 159 →

But while such an impressive performance worked during his father’s reign, its effectiveness has become more questionable. Mswati’s invention of a system of monarchical democracy, which he claimed in 2013 came to him during a thunder storm, or his revelation at the 39th SADC assembly meeting in June 2016 that he believes in ‘democracy as an idea but not as an ideal because things that are ideal to you may not be ideal to other people’ (Mail and Guardian np), would be merely a laughable part of the grotesque and obscene that Mbembe identifies as being intrinsic elements of the banality of power, if it were not for the very real instances of ongoing human rights abuses.16 In short, the practice of defiant African alterity that the Ncwala represented under King Sobhuza has in many ways been reduced to an event or function alongside other traditionalist practices ← 159 | 160 → that foreign journalists in particular draw upon to present the nation to the world as a kind of royal African theme park or cultural village.17

As such, the annual ritual reflects and reinforces the more mundane, banal operations of government, whose exploitation of traditional structures also includes modes of censorship. The tight restriction placed on the news media and voices of dissent extends beyond the control of state television, radio, and print media to the world of book publishers. Macmillan Publishers holds a monopoly on the production of educational materials following an agreement with the government first struck in 1979 and renewed for a further ten years in 1988.18 In turn, local writers and editors hired by Macmillan practise a form of self-censorship, as they expunge from their own work as well as that of others any material that might be considered subversive by the state. This is evident in the various iterations of Eric Sibanda’s ‘Sagila Semnikati’. Originally set during the Ncwala ceremony, Sibanda’s story was subsequently recast, the Ncwala written out of it and replaced with a traditional wedding ceremony as educational authorities, publisher, writers, and editors performed a version of Mbembe’s ‘mutual zombification’19 in their unwitting attempts to make literal the original siSwati title, which metaphorically refers to ‘the one who does his majesty’s bidding’.20 Subsequently in 2006, another Swazi writer and actor, Sibusiso Mamba, adapted Sibanda’s original story as an English radio drama that was broadcast on BBC radio, reinserting the Ncwala as the setting and ← 160 | 161 → shortening the title to ‘Sagila’. With Mamba’s English rendering, the detective story’s capacity to represent and propose change to social systems and their structures reaches a global audience.

Sibanda’s story, ‘Sagila Semnikati’, is a whodunit murder mystery set during the nation’s most sacred rite of kingship. The mutilated body of the wealthy and respected farmer, Fabagiye Mamba, is discovered on the eve of the Ncwala. More unsettling is the realization that his death was a medicine murder, and that various parts of his body (‘his tongue, his nipple, his right eye, and his beard’)21 have been cut away and taken along with the titular sagila, or club, which was his proud possession. As the story progresses, the setting of the royal residence and the Ncwala ritual seem to fade into the background. The detectives question a number of suspects, but when each is proven to be innocent, the investigation circles back to the site of the murder at the Ludzidzini royal compound where the Ncwala was held.

Like the conventional murder mystery, character is secondary to plot. Sibanda’s story depersonalizes the police officers, usually called ‘senior detectives’, instead allowing the story’s narrative thrust to remain firmly on the investigation. When the detectives are given a voice, they generally discuss the direction that they should or should not have taken. This lack of a central character who analyses events and makes pronouncements creates an oddly distanced, objective effect. The suspects who are put forward are conventional types that appear often in Swazi literature. There is the farmer who had been engaged in a land dispute with the victim, the victim’s favourite but junior wife, who may also have stolen his money, and the stranger who had been seen carrying a club. These suspects, however, are each dismissed in short order. The story’s potentially troubling critique of state power begins when the detectives review the case one year later, as one of them speculates, ‘Maybe the killer is one of those living in the royal residence, or somebody related to them.’22 His partner concurs, ‘We made ← 161 | 162 → the mistake of looking far from the scene of the crime.’23 This, it turns out, is precisely the case. Following a further investigation, two senior warriors who resided at the royal residence during the Ncwala are finally arrested and charged with murder and fraud.

Even though the club itself is actually discovered at the home of one of the warriors, not on the grounds where the Ncwala had been performed, it would appear that Eric Sibanda made the mistake of not setting the scene of the crime far enough from the royal residence, of not being satisfied with placing the killer amongst the all too common farmers, or wives, or strangers found everywhere in the nation. In preparation for a revised edition of the anthology, Khulumani Sive in which ‘Sagila Semnikati’ had appeared, Macmillan Swaziland asked Sibanda to make changes to his story. In particular, the editors wanted him to situate the murder in a different location and context from that of the royal residence and the Ncwala. Sibanda refused, arguing (perhaps disingenuously) that the Ncwala was peripheral to the story, that it was a story about medicine murder. It is Eric Sibanda’s belief that following his refusal to revise his story, Macmillan approached another Swazi writer who then made extensive changes, including most importantly the removal of the Ncwala as setting and its replacement as the more innocuous umtsimba, or traditional wedding scene. However, a lecturer from a local Teachers College who is one of Macmillan’s regular writers and editors, disputes Sibanda’s claim, insisting that she was hired by Macmillan to edit the story. She argues that the original version, with its implicit link between the Ncwala and ritual murder, was unSwazi, which in local terms is an extremely powerful accusation to level against someone.24 As Mirta Virella writes in an article on censorship in Argentinian cultural production,

the regulations and decrees that testify to the control of culture are semantically interwoven and engender prescriptive practices that are organized through contagion ← 162 | 163 → and inclusion. Accordingly, a discourse takes shape in which each isolated prohibition is absorbed and understood as a general prohibition.25

With her accusation of being ‘unSwazi,’ the editor firmly situates the discourse of censorship in the arena of nationalist sentiment. And as if to prove how much she is willing to sacrifice, her name does not appear among the list of authors or editors in the book. Instead, Macmillan retained Sibanda’s name, as if to suggest that he had revised the story himself.

When the 2001 edition of the anthology was published, the whole of Swaziland was gripped by reports of the capture of a serial killer named David Simelane, who is believed to have killed forty five women between 1999 and 2001. Further, during the course of ongoing interrogations, Simelane claimed that he did not act alone, that he had been hired by a prominent local businessman and two members of parliament to collect body parts to be sold as muti. Perhaps this case (still unresolved by 2004 when the second edition of the anthology was published) may have influenced Macmillan’s decision to revise Sibanda’s story. The ongoing discovery of mutilated female bodies was reported to a population bewildered and terrified by the ravages of HIV/AIDS and some were using muti, or traditional medicine, in an attempt to combat the disease. When Simelane started his killing spree in 1999, Swaziland was being confronted with another crisis. In a carefully researched article on the mass-murderer, Shaun Raviv writes,

By one account, nearly 50,000 people had died of AIDS at that point, nearly one out of every twenty Swazis, most of them in the prime of their lives. [Alan] Whiteside told me that there was a cemetery at the bottom of the hill by his school, and it served as an indicator of the epidemic for him. ‘Every time I went past,’ he said, ‘it just grew, the red mounds of earth scarring the veld’.26

This was also the year that King Mswati called the nation together to fight HIV/AIDS, even as he chose yet another wife following the Umhlanga ceremony that year. Mbembe’s notion of necropolitics describes the king’s ← 163 | 164 → empty rhetoric which in effect created the conditions for ‘death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead’.27 Sibanda’s short story had captured a small part of this world, and the implications of a medicine murder occurring during the kingdom’s most sacred ritual meant Macmillan felt its own close association with government at least partially threatened.

The second version of the story attempts to stay true to the situational irony of the original by locating Fabagiye’s death during a private wedding, a celebration of a fresh beginning. However, the new site and altered ceremony depreciate the significance of the crime as it appears in the original story and empty the act of ritual murder of its potentially subversive value. Early in the original story Sibanda writes,

A lot of people were shocked and amazed by Fabagiye’s death. A man to die when he had attended the incwala ceremony! And then rot away for days without being found! What had happened to his neighbours who were also there? Fabagiye left on Saturday in readiness for the incwala which was to be danced the following Tuesday.28

The edited rendering retains the exclamatory sentences, but modifies the occasion:

A lot of people were shocked and amazed by Fabagiye’s death. A man to die when he had attended a traditional wedding! His cousin’s wedding, too! Fabagiye left home on Tuesday in order to help his cousins with the wedding preparations at Masini, across the Mkhondvo River. The wedding was on that Saturday.29 ← 164 | 165 →

Sibanda continues on as if to underscore the setting of the murder, whereas the editor of the second version dutifully decontaminates the site. The original edition reads:

His family was then shocked to receive a message that Fabagiye had died at the traditional capital. But he had been in good health when he left! The deceased had been discovered in his hut at Ludzidzini by children who were playing hide and seek. A child who had hidden in Fabagiye’s open hut had come out screaming his lungs out, one would swear he had chanced upon the deadly mamba snake.30

The revised edition reads:

His family was then shocked to receive a message that Fabagiye had passed on. His wives had been to the wedding and come back on Sunday, leaving him in good spirits and health. The deceased had been discovered by herd boys four days after the umhlambiso rite which concludes a traditional wedding. The boys were looking for lost goats in a forest. One of them had searched inside a donga and soon emerged screaming his lungs out, one would swear he had chanced upon the deadly mamba snake.31

All of this occurs on the first page of the story, with one final insistence. Sibanda’s ‘Since this tragedy had occurred at a royal residence, it therefore had to be investigated by senior, experienced detectives. The motives of ← 165 | 166 → the killers had to be known’, is reduced to, ‘Since this was a serious crime, it therefore had to be investigated by senior, experienced detectives. The ruthless killer had to be found at all costs’, in the revised version.32

Interestingly, the mysterious editor did not see fit to remove the abhorrent criminal act of medicine murder. Except for the victim, Fabagiya Mamba, all the suspects are commoners, including the murderer himself apparently, who has no known links to royalty. But, like in the original story, the precise motive for the killing and dismemberment is not revealed; the emphasis instead is placed on the sagila. Even this object, however, is neutralized in the revised version. Whereas in Sibanda’s story the club would be associated with the Swazi regiments whose loyalty to the king is in part represented by these traditional knobkerries or war clubs, in the revised version it seems merely to be one of the accoutrements for full traditional regalia. The revised version does describe Fabagiye as ‘a senior warrior initiated under the Inyatsi regiment’,33 one of the nation-wide formations whose principle objective is to protect kingship,34 but it obfuscates the cultural value of the sagila during an exchange between the detectives and a herd boy who is the son of Bhodlijingi, one of the murders:

‘What does your father know about such things since he is always with his regiment?’

    ‘Then you really do not know him. Nobody can compete with him in this area. The club that he is carrying these days is awe-inspiring.’

    ‘A club? Where does your father get one from since he no longer herds cattle?’35 ← 166 | 167 →

While the detective’s interrogation places the herd boy on the defensive, causing him to reveal his father’s secret, the dual associations of the staff with the utilitarian work of cattle herding and the ceremonial display of the king’s warrior also distracts from Eric Sibanda’s emphasis on the sagila’s symbolic resonance. Macmillan or the National Curriculum Centre possibly felt that the story would initiate useful discussions amongst students (the target audience) over a practice that was still current in Swazi society, as the grisly Simelane case proves. Just as the sagila would simply operate as evidence, with no link to the Ncwala, the prescriptive practices of the state would remain outside of classroom discussions.

But while Sibanda’s story was appropriated and recast to perhaps satisfy a guarded monarchist sentiment, in March 2006 ‘Sagila Semnikati’ reappeared as ‘Sagila’, a drama adapted and performed on BBC radio by Sibusiso Mamba. And in this emergence onto an international platform Sibanda’s original use of the Ncwala as setting is revitalized, its understated presence transformed during the revelatory final moments into a vexed denunciation of the constrictions placed upon the individual in the name of tradition. Whereas the economy of Sibanda’s six-page narrative favours plot at the expense of character, Sibusiso Mamba’s version manages to align character development with the complications of a detective drama. The disclosure in the final minutes, in which we discover that the farmer’s son, Mafa, has plotted to have a traditional healer murder his father, with a reward of some of the murdered man’s body parts, acts as a shocking culmination to the dark currents of superstition, jealousy, infidelity, wife-beating, and polygamy that gather and circulate during the course of the play. Sipho, the detective, asks, ‘Why Mafa? Why during the Incwala?’,

MAFA:You see Detective … I hate this country. I hate all the traditions and fears and superstitions of this country … they are the reason my mother died. Because she refused to accept them! I knew that I had to make it look like a ritual killing. Scare the whole nation! Deflect any possible suspicion from myself. ← 167 | 168 →

Earlier in the play, Mamba has his character, Mafa, use voice-over to provide information on the significance of the ceremony to a foreign audience:

Incwala … the most sacred ceremony on the calendar of the Swazi Kingdom … thousands of young men and thousands of traditional warriors gather round the King, the most potent medicine men in the country also gather … and the purpose? To fortify the king and the Swazi nation … for the year to come.

Even more radically, perhaps, Mamba also has a character describe the king himself as being ‘dark as a storm-cloud’ upon hearing of the murder. The character Nkunzayi, a senator who presumably has links with the royal house, continues: ‘They killed your father on the day of Incwala, committed a ritual murder right on the premises of the Royal residence. It is an insult to the King and the whole nation!’36 Hilda Kuper notes in her analysis of the ritual during King Sobhuza’s reign that, ‘the Incwala unites the people under the king, and at present there is a fairly general appreciation of its nationalizing value. “We see we are all Swazi; we are joined against outside foes.” … The people must be united in friendship and cooperation; bloodshed at the Incwala is a terrible thing’. Writing for a global audience, Mamba appropriates this central narrative of the nation and translates this ‘play of kingship’ into a radio drama to expose the grip traditionalist ideology and patriarchal structures have on Swazi society.37 This development of Eric Sibanda’s relatively unobtrusive use of the Ncwala perhaps foregrounds its unsettling potential, the troubling implications of which were recognized by the education authorities, and subsequently occluded in the revised version.

A more public debate around censorship began in 2009 following a report that an account of the country’s largest opposition party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) would be introduced into the 2010–11 secondary school history curriculum.38 However, Vusi Sibisi ← 168 | 169 → published a scathing article in the Swazi Times the following year on the government’s decision to exclude any references to PUDEMO, a party that was banned practically at its inception and whose president, Mario Masuku, has been jailed on numerous occasions. Sibisi reported that Pat Muir, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training, claimed that the party’s inclusion in the textbook ‘was an oversight on their part’ ostensibly because the organization did not have any material on its evolution and history that could be used by teachers and students. The underlying rationale was that this caused confusion to both pupils and teachers.39 More recently, the text which caused the controversy, Focus on Swaziland, has apparently been grudgingly accepted after its initial rejection two years earlier. A 2014 article by Mduduzi Magagula notes that a government official ‘says the book is now usable because it documented things that happened before the party was proscribed’.40 The text documents the formation of PUDEMO in 1983 at the University of Swaziland during the turbulent interregnum following the death of Sobhuza II in which the Queen Regent, Dzeliwe, was deposed by a faction within the royal house.41

With such close regulation of educational material, it is perhaps not so surprising, then, that the kingdom’s most important ritual, the Ncwala, is almost wholly absent in siSwati fiction, poetry, and drama. Zodwa Motsa recognizes its potential for literature in her call for Swazi writers to model their drama after its performative displays; for her, the ritual reinforces Swazi identity and is an imaginable vehicle for an original local expression separate from Western dramatic patterns.42 Like Motsa, in a separate article ← 169 | 170 → Patrick Ebewo (unaware of Mamba’s play) wonders why Swazi writers have not incorporated elements of the ceremony into their drama, but he is more interested in the subversive potential of transforming ‘the Incwala ritual performance into a revolutionary theatre with the primary purpose of empowering disadvantaged Swazi citizens in the struggle to liberate themselves from the oppressive forces of cultural conventions’.43 Mamba’s version of ‘Sagila Semnikati’ does answer Ebewo’s call for writers to lay claim to and adapt elements of the ceremony as a means to expose the commandement’s manipulation of tradition. In this, he also goes some way towards Motsa’s recognition of the Ncwala’s potential for self-representation by local writers that is free from the shackles of Western literary influences.

Ironically, however, his translation of the ritual must rely on a European platform from which to be heard. Within Swaziland itself, discussion on the workings of this ‘play of kingship’ is forbidden. Describing a seminar on traditional religion and culture organized by former Lecturer Joshua Mzizi at the University of Swaziland, Simangaliso Kumalo writes,

when people raised questions around the issue of Incwala they were warned not to discuss this because he had not sought permission from the royal elders (labadzala). The warning came through the then Minister of Justice who also happened to be a chief himself. The question that may be asked is why the mystery surrounding the monarchy and some of the sacred ceremonies? The answer to that question is so that it can remain mysterious. It is this mysteriousness and superstition that has sustained the continuity of the kingship.44

Mbembe argues that in the postcolony ‘the commandement is constantly engaged in projecting an image both of itself and the world – a fantasy that it presents to its subjects as a truth that is beyond dispute …. The commandement itself aspires to be a cosmogony’.45 The mystification of a ritual that is the embodiment of kingship is institutionalized as the despot’s ← 170 | 171 → inviolability filters down to its national university as repressed freedom of expression. More broadly, the secrecy enveloping aspects of the Ncwala insinuates itself into educational, literary, and media spaces. In August 2014 Minister of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT), Dumisani Ndlangamandla, announced that ‘state media existed primarily to serve the interests of the state’.46 Meanwhile in June 2015, a report tabled at the Swaziland Parliament revealed that censorship at (state-controlled) Swazi Television was so tight that every month the Swaziland government issued directives to the station about what events it should cover.47 And as recently as January 2018 an Independent Online (IOL) article written by Mel Frykber reported that Zweli Martin Dlamini, the editor of Swaziland Shopping, an independent newspaper based in Swaziland, was forced to flee the country after receiving death threats from the manager of Swazi Mobile, a telecommunications company that the king and other high-ranking officials own shares in. Dlamini’s paper was closed down by the government following the publication of his article, which exposed how Swazi Mobile had dislodged its rival, the parastatal company, SPTC.48

The control of public spaces is duplicated in the censorious practices of a publishing house that employs an anonymous writer to alter a story appearing in an anthology that is included in the high school curriculum without providing acknowledgement of the changes. This elision of the site of kingly ritual mirrors the absence of the Ncwala in Swaziland’s literary landscape more generally. Certainly, the continued rendering of this drama of kingship by Swazi writers could further test the limits of saying the unsayable in Swaziland, transforming the event into a ritual of rebellion ← 171 | 172 → against autocratic rule and questioning the claim that one absolute, singular narrative constitutes a nation.49


African News Agency, ‘Swaziland’s King Rebrands Monarchy as Democracy’, Globe and Mail <> accessed 9 June 2016.

Apter, Andrew, Beyond Words: Discourse and Critical Agency in Africa (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

Booth, Alan R., Historical Dictionary of Swaziland (Maryland and London: Scarecrow Press, 2000).

Comaroff, John, and Jean Comaroff, Ethnicity Inc (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

Dube, Buhle, and Alfred Magagula, ‘Update: The Law and Legal Research in Swaziland’, Globalex <> accessed 21 June 2016.

Ebewo, Patrick, ‘Swazi Incwala: The Performative and radical Poetics in a Ritual Practice’, South African Theatre Journal 25/2 (2011), 89–100.

Frykberg, Mel, ‘Swazi editor flees over story on King Mswati’s “shady dealings”’, IOL Africa, 12 January 2018. <> accessed 13 January 2018.

Gerard, Albert S., Four African Literatures: Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Amharic (Berkeley: University of California, 1971).

‘The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic’, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation <> accessed 18 July 2017.

Gluckman, Max, Rituals of Rebellion in South-East Africa (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1954). ← 172 | 173 →

Kumalo, R. Simangaliso, Religion and Politics in Swaziland: The Contributions of Dr. J. B. Mzizi (South Africa: Sun Press, 2013).

Kunene, Mazisi, ‘Some Aspects of South African Literature’, World Literature Today, Winter (1996), 13–17.

Kuper, Hilda, An African Aristocracy (London: Oxford University Press, 1947).

——, Sobhuza II: Ngwenyama and King of Swaziland (New York: Africana Publishing, 1978).

Macmillan, Hugh, ‘Swaziland: Decolonization and the Triumph of ‘Tradition’, Journal of Modern African Studies 23/4 (1985), 643–66.

Magagula, Mduduzi, ‘PUDEMO AND THE ROYAL FAMILY’, Times of Swaziland < > accessed 16 August 2017.

——, ‘PUDEMO in New School Syllabus’, Times of Swaziland <> accessed 16 August 2017.

Mamba, Sibusiso, Sagila. Collection of Sibusiso Mamba (2006).

Mathonsi, Wandile. ‘The Owner’s Knobkerrie.’ Collection of Wandile Mathonsi (2005).

Matsebula, J. S. M., A History of Swaziland (Cape Town: Longman, 1988).

Mavuso, Makana, ‘The Book Chain in Swaziland’ in Roger Stringer, ed., The Book Chain in Anglophone Africa (Oxford: INASP, 2002). 83–6.

Mbamalu, Socrates, ‘Swaziland: King Mswati III Takes 14th Wife After Umhlanga Reed Dance Festival’, allAfrica, 25 September 2017. <> accessed 13 January 2018.

Mbembe, Achille, ‘Necropolitics’, trans. Libby Meintjes, Public Culture 15/1 (2003), 11–40.

——, ‘Provisional Notes on the Postcolony’, Africa 62/1 (1992), 3–37.

Motsa, Zodwa, ‘The Missing Link in siSwati Modern Drama’, in Lokangaka Losambe and Devi Sarinjeive, eds, Pre-Colonial and Post-Colonial Drama and Theatre in Africa (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2001), 32–47.

Msibi, Nhlanhla, The Delayed Revolution: Swaziland in the Twenty-First Century (Kindle Edition, 2014).

Raviv, Shaun, ‘The Killers of Swaziland’, The Big Roundtable <> accessed 8 August 2017.

Rooney, Richard, ‘NO CHANCE OF OPEN BROADCASTS’, Swazi Media Commentary <> accessed 8 August 2017.

Sibanda, Eric, Personal Interview, 4 July 2013.

——, ‘Sagila Semnikati’ in Zodwa Motsa, ed., Khulumani Sive (Manzini: Macmillan Boleswa, 2001), 138–43. ← 173 | 174 →

——, ‘Sagila Semnikati’ in Zodwa Motsa, ed., Khulumani Sive (Manzini: Macmillan Boleswa, 2004), 139–48. Revised edition.

Sibisi, Vusi, ‘New syllabus geared to brainwash Swazi child’, Swazi Times <> accessed 16 August 2017.

‘Swaziland: No Chance of Open Broadcasts’, allAfrica, 2 August 2017 <> accessed 16 August 2017.

Tsabedze, Clara, ‘The siSwati Novel: Writing Within the Confines of Patriarchal Culture’, Writing and Reading Swaziland Seminar. University of Swaziland, 26 October 2012.

Vail, Leroy, and Landeg White, Power and the Praise Poem: Southern African Voices in History (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1991).

Varela, Mirta ‘Between Banality and Censorship’, trans. Giulia Luisetti <> accessed 9 June 2016.

1 Unpublished seminar paper.

2 Cited in Albert S. Gerard, Four African Literatures: Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Amharic (Berkeley: University of California, 1971), 266.

3 Wandile Mathonsi alerted me to alterations to the original story while conducting research as part of the team working on an annotated bibliography of Swazi literature. He also translated both the original and revised stories. Without his alert eye and valuable assistance, this piece would not have been written. Telamilile P. Mkhatshwa also helped with some of the translation.

4 Mamba, Sibusiso, Sagila, 2006. I wish to thank Sibusiso Mamba for providing me with a copy of the manuscript.

5 While often spelled ‘Incwala’, I follow Andrew Apter’s rendering of the word, which is based on Hilda Kuper’s distinction between its noun-prefix usage. See Apter, p. 50.

6 See, for instance Socrates Mbamalu’s article in allAfrica.

7 An article published by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation provides the following statistics: ‘South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV in the world (7.0 million). Swaziland has the highest prevalence in the world (28.8%).’

8 Achille Mbembe ‘Provisional Notes on the Postcolony’, Africa 62/1 (1992), 3–37.

9 Mbembe, ‘Provisional Notes’, 4.

10 Alan R. Booth, Historical Dictionary of Swaziland (Maryland and London: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 210.

11 Hilda Kuper, An African Aristocracy (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), 197.

12 Hilda Kuper, Sobhuza II: Ngwenyama and King of Swaziland (New York: Africana Publishing, 1978), 340–1.

13 Hugh Macmillan, ‘Swaziland: Decolonization and the Triumph of “Tradition”’ Journal of Modern African Studies 23/4 (1985), 643–66.

14 Booth, Dictionary, 318.

15 Msibi, Nhlanhla, The Delayed Revolution: Swaziland in the Twenty-First Century (Kindle Edition, 2014).

16 Buhle Dube and Alfred Magagula’s caustic remarks are worth quoting at length:

Swaziland is in a fairly unique position as it has more than one document which claims to be the supreme law of the land: the King’s Proclamation to the Nation No 12 of 1973 (the ‘1973 Decree’) and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland Act No 1 of 2005 (the ‘2005 Constitution’). The 1973 Decree is still in effect; a decree can only be repealed by decree, and there has been no decree repealing the 1973 Decree. The 2005 Constitution vests most powers in His Majesty. For example, he appoints the Cabinet, the judges and the Civil Service Commission. He can veto any law and is not properly bound by the laws of the realm …. However, this is nothing compared to the 1973 Decree. That document places ‘all executive, judicial and legislative functions’ in the King. In other words, the 1973 Decree allows the King to rule by decree. It was this power His Majesty used on 6 February 2006 when he declared that the 2005 Constitution … would come into force on 8 February 2006. The King’s … Proclamation No 1 of 2006 demonstrated that the 1973 Decree was still fully operational. As things stand in the state of Swaziland in 2011, there can be little doubt that the 1973 Decree is the supreme law of the land.

Two recent examples of how the law operates with impunity were the imprisonment of Thulani Maseko, a human rights activist and lawyer and Bheki Makhubu, editor of The Nation, for 470 days (they were finally released in June 2015), and the February 2016 attack on University of Swaziland students by security police, who drove an armoured vehicle into the crowd, injuring one student so badly that her spinal cord was broken.

17 Comaroff & Comaroff refer to an article in the Cape Times on Swaziland to reinforce their comparison of KwaZulu-Natal to a culture park (fn 25, 156). As a ceremony, the Ncwala has featured in the writings of foreign visitors and journalists since the nineteenth century, when it was often viewed as either proof of an autochthonous cultural heritage or as a display of savage brutality. During the twentieth century, the print media has tended to sensationalize it as a means of critiquing royal power.

18 Late in 2000 the government proceeded to introduce the development of school textbooks for the secondary level as well. Mavuso, Makana, ‘The Book Chain in Swaziland’ in Roger Stringer, ed., The Book Chain in Anglophone Africa (Oxford: INASP, 2002), 83–6 (85).

19 Mbembe, ‘Provisional Notes’, 4.

20 Lucy Dlamini offered ‘The One Who Does His Majesty’s Bidding’ as another possible translation. The manuscript translations are not paginated.

21 Original text: ‘Akusekho lulwimi, libele, liso langesekudla, kantsi nentjwebe ihinindziwe’ (138).

22 Original text: ‘Awucabangi yini kutsi lowambulala kungaba ngumuntfu wakhona lapho esidzidzini, noma-ke lohlobene nemuntfu wakhona?’ (141).

23 Original text: ‘Tsine sesuke safuna khashane sashiya ekhaya’ (141).

24 Sibanda discussed the issue with me in his office at the University of Swaziland. I had an opportunity to talk to the actual editor (who shall remain anonymous) outside the UNISWA library in July 2014.

25 Mbembe, ‘Provisional Notes’, 4.

26 Shaun Raviv, ‘The Killers of Swaziland’, The Big Roundtable <> accessed 8 August 2017.

27 Achille Mbembe, ‘Necropolitics’, trans. Libby Meintjes, Public Culture 15/1 (2003), 11–40 (40).

28 Original text: ‘Kubamangalise kufanele bantfu kufa kwaFabagiye. Ukhona nje umuntfu longafa aye eNcwaleni? Adzimate umuntfu acishe abolele emalawini pho angabonwa ngumuntfu? Kani lawa lamanye emajaha emmango labekaye eNcwaleni abekadze akuphi? Fabagiye usuka lapha kunguMgcibelo, iNcwala itawugidvwa ngaLesibili lolandzelako’ (138).

29 Original text: ‘Kubamangalise kufanele bantfu kufa kwa Fabagiye. Ukhona nje umuntfu longafa aye emtsimbeni? Emtsimbeni wemzala wakhe nekwenta! Fababiye usuka lapha kakhe ngalweSibili utsi uyawusita emalungiselelweni emtsimba wemzala wakhe le eMasini ngesheya kweMkhondvo. Umtsimba wemzala wakhe utawuba mgeMgcibelo’ (139).

30 Original text: ‘batunywe ngumbiko wekutsi sekumenele Fabagiye kaNgwane. Njani manje umuntfu ahambe aphila lapha? Umufi utfolwa bantfwana elawini lakhe eLudzidzini ngelilanga lelilandzela lelo lekushisa umgogodla. Bantfwana bebadlala bacoshana, lomunye abone umnyango ungakavalwa kahle kulenye indlu agijime ayowungena khona, atsi ubhacela labangani bakhe. Akuphelanga namizuzu mingakhi angenile, umntfwana aphume acacamba. Wawungafunga utsi uhleangene nemamba lukhonkhotsi’ (138).

31 Original text: ‘batunywe ngumbiko wekutsi sekumenele Fabagiye. Njani manje umuntfu ahambe aphila lapha? Futsi nabo bamshiye aphila nasebabuya ngeliSontfo. Umufi utfolwa bafana bekwelusa ngelilanga lesine emva kwemhlambiso. Bafana bahamba vafuna timbuti lapha emahlatsini eceleni kwemfula. Munye wabo watsi asekangene lapha esihosheni abukabuke khona ngobe lokwetimbuti kuyatitsandza tihosha. Akuphelanga mizuzi mingakhi, ashobele umfana esihosheni, wevakala acacamba. Wawungafunga utsi uhlangene nemamba lukhonkhotsi’ (139–40).

32 Original texts: ‘Njengoba lendzaba yenteke emtini webuKhosi, kufanele iphatfwe bofokisi labavutsiwe. Kufanele kutsi jakutfungatswa luhala kutfolakale kutsi ngabe lowo lombulele bekafunani’ and ‘Njengobe lendzaba yimbi kakhulu kufanele iphatfwe bofokisi labavutsiwe. Nakanjani lolobulele umntfwana Mamba ngesibulawela lesingaka kufuneka atfolakale’ (140).

33 Original text: ‘Libutfo lakhe bekuyiNyatsi yaMswati’ (140).

34 Following a period of training and upon graduating into a regiment, inductees utter the declaration, tsine sigane iNkhosi (we are married to the King) (Kumalo 88).

35 Original text:

‘“Suka lapha wena, abekubonaphi uyihlo kugawula tindvuku loku uhlala lena emabutfweni nje. Kgutiphi ke letindvuku telikhetselo lotsi uyihlo unato?”

‘Kuhleke kwemfana.

‘“Wo-hho-hho! Nembala awumati babe wena. Uyatati tindvuku latiphatsako kutsi tinjani? Yona lena lanayo nje kulamalanga yelikhetselo lucobo”’ (146).

36 All quotations Eric Sibanda, ‘Sagila Semnikati’ in Zodwa Motsa, ed., Khulumani Sive (Manzini: Macmillan Boleswa, 2004), 139–48, revised edition, 45; 3; 8; 8.

37 Kuper, Aristocracy, 224; 225.

38 Mduduzi Magagula, ‘PUDEMO in New School Syllabus’, Times of Swaziland <> accessed 16 August 2017.

39 Vusi Sibisi, ‘New syllabus geared to brainwash Swazi child’, Swazi Times <> accessed 16 August 2017.

40 Mduduzi Magagula, ‘PUDEMO AND THE ROYAL FAMILY’ Times of Swaziland <> accessed 16 August 2017.

41 There is some uncertainty over whether the material has in fact been included in the syllabus to date. The text in question, Focus on Swaziland, does not appear in any Google search. It was, however, published by Macmillan.

42 Zodwa Motsa, ‘The Missing Link in siSwati Modern Drama’, in Lokangaka Losambe and Devi Sarinjeive, eds, Pre-Colonial and Post-Colonial Drama and Theatre in Africa (New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2001), 32–47.

43 Patrick Ebewo, ‘Swazi Incwala: The Performative and radical Poetics in a Ritual Practice’, South African Theatre Journal 25/2 (2011), 89–100, (90).

44 Simangaliso Kumalo Religion and Politics in Swaziland: The Contributions of Dr. J. B. Mzizi (South Africa: Sun Press, 2013), 43–4.

45 Mbembe, ‘Provisional Notes’, 8.

46 ‘Swaziland: No Chance of Open Broadcasts’, allAfrica <> accessed 16 August 2017.

47 Rooney, Richard, ‘NO CHANCE OF OPEN BROADCASTS’, Swazi Media Commentary <> accessed 8 August 2017.

48 Frykberg, Mel. ‘Swazi editor flees over story on King Mswati’s “shady dealings”’, IOL Africa, 12 January 2018. <> accessed 13 January 2018.

49 The Ncwala was identified by South African anthropologist Max Gluckman as belonging to ancient practices that he labelled ‘rituals of rebellion,’ During these displays tensions are openly expressed, but rebellion is performed as a means of channeling potential hostilities and ultimately reinforcing loyalties towards the king, thus denying the possibility of social change to traditional structures.