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Swazi who entered White House barefooted dies

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MANZINI – The country’s former Ambassador to the United States of America, Indvuna Peter Helemisi Mtetwa is late.

Indvuna Helemisi is remembered as the proud Swazi Ambassador who went to the White House barefooted in November 1983, wearing only loin skin.

Later on, Indvuna Helemisi’s entrance at the White House was to be regarded as the only time a person brought in a potential weapon, and is said to have caused worries for secret agents who tried to confiscate the ceremonial spear he carried.

Helemisi, as he was affectionately known, died last Friday after midnight in Piet Retief in South Africa after a short illness.

When he met his death, he was Indvuna of Maseyisini Umphakatsi in the Shiselweni region.

His death was confirmed by his brother, acting Ludzidzini Governor Timothy Velabo Mtetwa, who said they were both sons of Chief Mandanda.

The acting governor described his brother as a person who was very polite and was once District Commissioner of Manzini.

He said his brother earned the name Helemisi from Chief Mandanda after the then Manzini District Commissioner, HB Williams, who locals preferred calling Helemisi.

"My brother got the name from our father who named him after the then District Commissioner, HB Williams, and it was as if the chief was predicting that he would one day hold the same position as Williams," said the acting governor.

Helemisi later went on to be the country’s fifth Ambassador to the United States of America during the Presidency of Ronald Regan in the 1980s.


About the indvuna’s decision to enter the White House barefooted, wearing loin skin and carrying a spear, TV said it was what everyone copied from His Majesty King Sobhuza II.

Selwa ‘Lucky’ Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan’s former Protocol Chief, in documents, said Indvuna Helemisi shocked protocol staff, who prayed that the dignitary would resist the urge to bend in a deep bow for Reagan, lest the cloth flew open.

Secret Service agents, meanwhile, were busy trying to confiscate the ambassador’s ceremonial spear.

"I was much too diplomatic to say anything at all to the ambassador," said Roosevelt, who made the story a Washington staple in her book, ‘Keeper of the Gate.’


The spear, she said, was a particularly memorable accessory. "It was the only time someone brought in a potential weapon," she said. The Maseyisini Indvuna’s memorial service will be held today at the Nhlangano Roman Catholic Church and will be followed by a vigil.

He will be buried tomorrow at Maseyisini, in Nhlangano.


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