Persistent rumours of an imminent uprising against the rule of King Mswati III have been making the rounds in the foreign press for several weeks now, but the rumours are only an exaggeration of actual conditions in the misunderstood kingdom, where even pro-democracy groups and banned political parties profess, publicly at least, their allegiance to the King.
The rumours were triggered by a series of protests against the evictions on 14 October of residents of two chieftaincies who refused to be ruled by the King's brother, Prince Maguga Dlamini.
"We wish to see King Mswati serve as a constitutional monarch, above politics," said Jan Sithole, secretary general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, which opposes the evictions.
A meeting planned to discuss the matter by the unions was banned by the government under a colonial-era Public Order Act, which the British put in place back in 1963 to stifle pre-independence political unrest.
The law is still in force, and the government invoked it to ban indefinitely all trade union meetings. But both the Federation of Trade Unions and the Swaziland National Association of Teachers have vowed to hold their meetings across the border in South Africa.
The troubles started on 14 October when 200 residents of Macetjeni and KaMkhweli were rounded up in the dead of the night during a joint army and police raid. They were transported to an open field 100 kms away where no provisions had been made for their survival, according to the Swaziland Baphalali Red Cross Society that provided them with tents, food and clothing.
One reason for the neglect was the government's expectation that once the evicted people saw their plight, they would shift their allegiance from the chiefs of Macetjeni and KaMkhweli to Prince Maguga. One elderly woman, Thembisile Mabuza, related: "When the soldiers came to take us away, they said we could return as soon as we apologised to Maguga."
An unusual history surrounds Prince Maguga. By custom, he is King Mswati's father, and his own father's brother.
Back in 1898, the Transvaal government then administering the "Swaziland Territory", indicted Mswati's grandfather, King Bhunu, for the murder of a palace councillor. Bhunu was acquitted, but not before he fled to Natal to seek the British protection.
He stayed at the kraal of King Dinizulu, where he was promised a Zulu bride. Bhunu died the following year, but the pledge of a wife had to be honoured. And it was eventually, by...