Broomsticks and brides don't make Swazis laugh

Suddenly Swaziland is in the news - from South Africa to the UK. But as per usual, it is in the news for all the wrong reasons. The latest from the country concerns an apparent ban on witches flying on broomsticks above 150 metres. Cue a host of cut and pasted reports in newspapers and online sites far and wide about the quaint customs of the world's favourite crazy Kingdom.

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

May 15th, 2013

Suddenly Swaziland is in the news - from South Africa to the UK. But as per usual, it is in the news for all the wrong reasons. The latest from the country concerns an apparent ban on witches flying on broomsticks above 150 metres. Cue a host of cut and pasted reports in newspapers and online sites far and wide about the quaint customs of the world's favourite crazy Kingdom.

Did you know that broomsticks are considered similar to any heavier-than-air transportation device in Swaziland? Ha! ha! ha! Did you know that no penalties exist for witches flying below 150 metres? Ha! ha! ha! Did you know that Swazi brooms are short bundles of sticks that don't have handles? Ha! ha! ha!

Needless to say Swazis aren't laughing. Just like they don't laugh when the international media descends on the kingdom to 'report' on the reed dance and all those 'bare-breasted maidens'. Just like they don't laugh when the international media writes about the King's latest bride. Whether it's number 14 or 15 or 16 is no laughing matter to Swazis.

And instead of laughing, they wonder why the world's media doesn't scratch the surface of Africa's last absolute monarchy to see the horror of acute poverty and human rights abuses that lurks just below. Of course, a few journalists do. But most don't. Where, for example, is the coverage of the recent start of registration for the ludicrously undemocratic elections - or 'selections' as everyone in Swaziland refers to them? Or reports on 40 years of absolute rule on April 12th - four decades without political parties; four decades during which 1 million people have been ruled absolutely by 2 men - King Sobhuza II and his son King Mswati III?

It's fine to write quirky stories every now and then. But the real story of Swaziland needs to be told as well. And the real story is not at all funny.

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