MBABANE: King Mswati has unleashed his ritual men(Bemanti) that include soldiers and the police to go around the country harassing all women wearing pants and those who appeared in public without covering their heads.
This is a culture of impunity known as kuhlamahlama(maintaining a state of fear among the citizens) that forms part of the King's Incwala annual ritual ceremony, the harassment of the women and young girls has been going on for years, however, it has been prevented from reaching the international community because the media is censored in eSwatini.
Reached for comments by this Swaziland News, Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, a human rights lawyer said the conduct of the King's ritual men amounts to harassment and in complete violation of the Constitution that guarantees the rights of women.
"What is done by Bemanti(ritual men) amounts to harassment, they are harassing these women because Section 28 of the Constitution deals with the rights and freedoms of women. When you read Section 28(3), it states that a woman shall not be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom which she is consciously opposed, so if a woman decides to wear pants and not to cover her head, that's her conscious decision, you cannot therefore force them or impose fines on them. Bemanti should concentrate on their work not to harass women" said the human rights lawyer.
A woman who was harassed by the King's ritual men told this Swaziland News that she was forcefully ordered to remove her ear-rings and as a result of the harassment and trauma she went through, she no longer feels free to decorate her body with ear-rings.
"They met me on my way from home at Lobamba and harassed me for wearing ear-rings to the extent that, I ended up feeling not comfortable with wearing them . It was a traumatic experience because they even attempted to forcefully remove the ear-rings from my ears but one of them calmed down the others saying, they should at least allow me to comply" said the victim.
Lusendvo Fakudze the Ludzidzini Royal Palace Governor recently announced in the media that the ritual men have been commissioned by the King to fetch water from the Indian Ocean that is normally used to perform rituals during the Incwala ceremony, subsequent efforts to reach him to respond on the alleged harassment of women and the other citizens proved unsuccessful at the time of compiling this report.
Colani Hlatswako, the Regional Coordinator of One Billion Rising Campaign Africa, a women's rights advocacy and solidarity organisation strongly condemned the conduct of the King's ritual men for violating the rights of women.
"Even though we are not against cultural practices that defines us as Africans and Emaswati , we strongly condemn the harassment of women in the name of culture. As we exercise these cultural practices, we must make sure we value human rights" she said.
But a royal insider who works closely with the King in performing the rituals told this publication that no law enforcement agency, court of law including the King can stop these ritual men from harassing the people as during this time of the ceremony, Bemanti are culturally regarded far above the King because they carry the supernatural powers used to rule the country.
"Bemanti become too powerful during this time of the ceremony, far above the King because they are carrying the supernatural powers sourced from the Indian Ocean and used to rule the country, even the King bows and take instructions from them until all the rituals are performed for him to rule without any disturbance in the new year. You will be surprised to learn that even the King was once fined cattle by the same Bemanti, they spotted him moving around outside seclusion at Ludzidzini breaching the ritual rules, bavele bamtjela emehlweni batsi, sikubonile wena ujangaza, mnike!(meaning: we saw you moving around, pay a fine). He gave them the cattle as a fine and he had no choice but to respect them because they fetch the powers to rule the country from the Ocean on his behalf hence he must comply until all the necessary rituals are performed for him to emerge powerful in the new year" said the royal insider.
But Sibongile Mazibuko, a political activist and President of the Ngcwane National Liberation Congress(NNLC) said the Incwala ritual ceremony was meant to suppress the citizens, she wondered what was the significance of the covering of heads in the midst of the ritual ceremony.
"Where does this covering come from? Incwala is merely a ritual for the royal family intended to bring total suppression both spiritually and physically, it has nothing to do with Swazi culture. To force people to adhere to it is gross violation of our rights particularly us, women." said the NNLC President.
King Mswati has unleashed ritual men to harass women ahead of his Incwala ritual ceremony.