One of my friends who formerly commented regularly on this blog, informed me some months ago about a documentary that had been made about the Swazi monarchy. It is called “Without the king.” In one of the other blogs I read daily I was recently reminded about this movie again and after an extensive search, I was able to find a copy from Amazon in Canada. A short trailer of the movie is also available here.
So, what are my views on the movie? I would describe the movie in two words: Excellent and biassed. We are given a fairly honest look at some parts of Swaziland – the monarchy on the one hand and on the other hand the upcoming generation, many of whom are living on the outskirts of the main towns, Mbabane and Manzini, in the hope of making a better living in the towns but devoid of any means to produce their own food and therefore living in great poverty if they should fail to find some form of occupation.
However there are also other groups of which nothing is shown in the documentary – the business people earning good salaries and living a stable life and the traditionalists in the rural areas, staunch supporters of the monarchy and who are mostly subsistence farmers (the people whom I work with mostly in our church.)
What was the aim of Michael Skolnik in making the documentary? Was he trying to warn the world of a possible revolution in the country? If so, why did he not also speak to the intelligentsia, many of whom are also disillusioned with the monarchy and would probably have been a better choice to influence world leaders rather than having to listen only to aggressive people, many of whom were obviously intoxicated while being interviewed? If his intentions was to give the world a picture of what is going on in Swaziland, (the good and the bad) then it would have been better if people from other backgrounds could also have been included.
A few remarks on some of the more sensational things shown in the documentary: At one point it is said that people are so poor that they have to eat intestines from cows and chicken heads and feet. Although this is not my personal favourite, for many Swazi people this is a delicatessen which they enjoy eating. Frozen chicken pieces are sold in stores in packages which include the head and feet. It is also said that churches are empty because people even fear to pray. That is absolute rubbish! Churches in Swaziland are small and not well attended, even though it is considered to be a Christian country, but this has absolutely nothing to do with fear to pray!
As I watched the movie I thought back to the Apartheid years in South Africa within which I grew up. Being within the privileged minority makes it very difficult to listen to people criticising the system. Many documentaries were made about that time and many books were written, most of which were banned in South Africa until 1994. One example of an excellent movie about the South African Apartheid system is The power of One (which I first heard about on a visit to the USA in 1999). However even this excellent movie, as is the case with Without the king, fails to give a balanced view of what really went on in the country.
To me this movie was upsetting as I realise that people on the ground are really getting upset with certain things happening in Swaziland and that a revolution is not impossible. Let’s just pray that it never happens.