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RECENT events and non-events have made me wonder if emaSwati have willingly or inadvertently become prisoners of culture.

At the same time I was also reminded of the wise words of King Sobhuza II when he advised the nation to discard from its culture that which was no longer relevant and replace it with that which was relevant from the West or European cultures.

That advice is, in retrospect, very instructive when one juxtaposes it against what is today obtaining in the name of culture.
For all the right reasons, the Kingdom of Eswatini is regarded as the seat and custodian of culture from around the globe, a feat this nation should be proud of considering the erosion of African cultures during the wave of colonialism.

In turn we should, collectively and individually, jealously protect this pride of place like we would our treasured possessions if not for ourselves but for generations to come and indeed posterity. To this end the nation is indebted to the Sovereign and iNgwenyama – His Majesty King Mswati III for the lead role he has played since ascending the throne in putting culture at the forefront of national imperatives.

That said the nation’s deep affection for and close relationship with its cultural heritage should not descend into cultural enslavement of the people. This is where the wise words of King Sobhuza II come to the fore hence any aspect of our culture that seeks to enslave the people, whether individually or collectively, should be discarded because it is a threat to progress and indeed in the very preservation of our rich culture and traditions.

As I see it, of importance too is the uniformity in the observance and practice of our culture and traditions ostensibly because of their unifying role. It would not and in fact does not augur well for our culture – in both observance and practice - to be selective and stratified because that is divisive and nemesis to national cohesion and should not be allowed to take root.

Today our culture is facing twin threats from unlikely sources – patriarchy and political polarisation – because of its failure to adapt to new dynamics birthed by the forever changing environment and circumstances. 

Whereas the old order was shaped around and dictated by patriarchy, this has become archaic in this new age into which humanity has evolved that is mirrored by monumental progress on a vast array of spheres and specifically on the scientific and technological fronts.

Yet too many of us are holding onto the old and retrogressive, refusing and reluctant to let go to enable us to embrace the new world of equality and equal opportunities. But what is worse than the pursuit of patriarchal hegemony is the societal hypocrisy personified by superficial acknowledgment, indeed acceptance, of women as equals.

In recent times we have been reminded of the uneven hands of culture in certain circumstances when we witnessed, in utter anguish, culture being thrown at the faces of grieving widows mourning the passing on of their spouses. This culture dictates that women in mourning should not perform certain tasks and functions and should not be found in certain spaces for the two-year duration of the mourning period.

Just to illustrate how deeply patriarchal emaSwati are is the case of the four female Members of Parliament who are supposed to be elected from the four regions of the kingdom that has not happened to date. This is a constitutional requirement since 2005 when the so-called supreme law of the land was adopted yet the enabling law has only recently been tabled in Parliament. Does that speak to a nation that is genuinely not patriarchal?    

Yet another grim illustration of this patriarchy is the delay in passing the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Bill, which is now parked in Senate. Essentially this proposed piece of legislation is seen by traditionalists as encroaching on the almighty rights of men, hence its delay in a Legislature that is overwhelmingly male dominated. But even more worrying is that this posture has the support of some women with one member of royalty, Princess Phumelele, spluttering out that a husband cannot rape his wife.

She went on to even suggest that women should leave bedrooms if they want to avoid being raped. It is such disparaging talk that reduces women to mere objects created for the sexual pleasures of men and domestic functionaries.
The irony and paradox, however, is that a majority of women accept their inferior status on the basis of being cultural and are prepared to fight anyone who tries to emancipate them.

In such circumstances how does anyone fight to liberate someone who enjoys being oppressed presumably because they recognize and respect the rights of the oppressor to oppress them, is the million Emalangeni question? If it is culture that is responsible for this mental retardation then there are all the reasons why it needs to be reformed so that it remains relevant to a nation on a trajectory to First World status in 2022. The alternative could be a revolt against culture, which unfortunately may result in its demise.

The other threat to culture has previously been a theme of this column and needs no introduction. This is the politicisation of culture to shore up the dysfunctional Tinkhundla political system. While this might work in the short to medium term, it is nonetheless unsustainable in the long term. When winds of political change begin to blow fiercely and the obtaining political hegemony is replaced culture might become a collateral casualty. Ultimately, people should not become slaves of culture.

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