Human Rights are #Swazi
This article was published by the Swazi Observer on 13 June 2013.
African cultures have rightfully been criticised for not respecting fundamental rights especially the rights of women, mostly because of harmful practices which negate gender equality. Many campaigns have been launched against these practices and laws have been passed to ensure that women enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts. Having discussed the key provisions of the preamble in the previous article, it is necessary to examine constitutional provisions that secure Swazi cultural practices and norms which promote human rights. The ultimate aim for this discussion is to identify the good cultural norms that can be promoted for human rights protection and national development. Culture can be understood to be the foundation of society; integrating the values, customs and characteristics of a people, and promoting interaction and dialogue amongst people is necessary. This is the reason in Swazi culture we have the saying that goes; ‘injobo itfungelwa ebandla’ (issues are better resolved through consultation and people involvement). Within this value of consultation or public participation there is the essence of the respect for the worth of every human being in society, hence it is encouraged for leaders to involve their communities in the decision-making processes.
Swazi customary law is entrenched in the Constitution as one of the laws in force in Swaziland although it is subjected to the provisions of the Constitution (section 252(2). This therefore means that customary law is recognized but its application is limited by its consistency with the Constitution. The Constitution further subjects customary law to other laws, natural justice, morality and humanity. It is necessary therefore to identify the cultural values that comply with the Constitution and use them to promote fundamental freedoms. For instance the principle of humanity is embedded in the Swazi way of life through the spirit of buntfu(humanity) which stems from the idiom that a person exists in unity with other people (umunftu ngumuntfu ngebantfu). The spirit of humanity acknowledges both the right and responsibilities of every citizen in promoting individual and societal wellbeing. This concept is about the individual being so rooted in the community that your personal identity is defined by what you give to the community. A person with buntfu is open and available to others, affirms and respects others, does not feel threatened by others’ strengths or abilities, because he or she recognises that we all belong to a greater whole.
The erosion of the spirit of bunftu and moral degradation has led to the many human rights violations that we see almost every day. Domestic violence, child abuse, harassment, property grabbing, ritual murders have become a norm as a consequence. Swazis of the past used to respect the country and its people; live liyengcayelwa is the essence of respect for the people, land and the environment. With this kind of respect people would treat each other in a spirit of brother/sisterhood knowing that if you harm your fellow human being you harm yourself. This approach can also be adopted to solve the many social ills we experience today. The society of Swaziland (especially the older generation) must revive the good cultural values that define the true Swazi way of life. Those in leadership (from community level to national government) must formulate and implement moral regeneration programmes that seek to counteract the social ills faced by our societies. These very cultural norms can be used to send the right messages that build and unite society instead of creating division among people. If children are indeed the future (umnftwana ngumliba loya embili) they should be trained the right way and not be used as instruments to promote division and hatred in society. Live linye ngetjani; the strength of a nation is derived from its diversity in opinions and experiences hence the respect for freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and association. It is necessary to blend the good institutions of traditional law and custom with those of an open and democratic society in order to promote development (paragraph 5 preamble of the Constitution). Thus traditional practices like those regulating the land tenure system under communal land (kukhonta) can be merged with the right to property and equality as enshrined in the Constitution (sections 19 and 20 respectively). Government must undertake research to establish the number of people who do not have access to land and work together with traditional leaders to ensure that such people are assisted at a low cost to obtain land to build their households. This will reduce the alarming rate of evictions and demolitions as well as guarantee the well being of the people. Therefore, culture should serve the great cause of holding the Swazi people together and strengthening their unity in diversity: whether within families, public life, communities or organisations. As the election process advances it is imperative for the people of Swaziland to rejuvenate the fundamental values that promote a sense of community and be wary of people who rush to serve the king without having done any service to their chiefdoms because it is through selflessness that a nation can prosper. Therefore cultural norms and values should help the nation to make a sense of itself in order to assert its roots, reflect on its troubles and forge a better, safer and prosperous way forward through a shared vision.