New film shows dark side of Swaziland, but also light at the end of the tunnel

The newly released film “The King and the People”, directed by Zimmedia owner Simon Bright, gives an historic insight into the tiny absolute kingdom of Swaziland, and it shows the brutal nature of the regime that runs the country, as well as the pervasive corruption, lack of media and other freedoms, poverty and inequality.

But the film also shows the growing hope of a more democratic and equal society that is epitomized by the country’s democratic movement, unions and civil society.

Absolute monarch King Mswati III of Swaziland, a personal trustee of a national fund of ten billion dollars who has a personal fortune of 100 million dollars, is one of the richest leaders in Africa but rules a country where two thirds of the population survive on less than a dollar a day, many on food aid.

“You want to feed your family, but you can’t – there’s no money and no jobs,” as a woman in Swaziland’s rural areas says in the film.

“These gross inequalities are the result of a political system in crisis,” the film concludes – a political system where political parties are banned and manifestations of opposition to the regime brutally repressed, where farmers can be evicted without compensation on the whim of the king, and where few outside the royal family and their supporters benefit from Swaziland’s agricultural and mineral wealth.

Historically, however, many Swazis have been reluctant to openly oppose the monarchy. “We have been born out of a society that encourages you not to challenge, not to question, keep quit, don’t be problematic. Then you will survive” as Swaziland United Democratic Front Coordinator Wandile Dludlu says in the film. “At the hands of an oppressor the best weapon is the mind of the oppressed.”

But there is a sense of change driven by the growing desire for a democratic form of government, the film says. Demonstrations and strikes continue and calls for democracy and socio-economic justice are driven by trade unions, progressive political parties and civil society. People everywhere are demanding change.

“People are now willing to speak out. People are talking about the system of governance, of this year’s elections and the need to open up for a multi-party dispensation and the activeness of political parties,” says Lomcebo Dlamini from the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations.

The film will premiere in Denmark (having already premiered in several other countries) on November 17 at Africa Contact’s offices in Copenhagen, where PUDEMO President Mario Masuku will speak about the political situation in Swaziland. Read more here (in Danish)  or here (English Google translation).

The film was not well received by the authorities in Swaziland. Read here about how the police stopped a viewing of the film.

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