Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Without the king

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.

Saturday, May 3, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Prayer, Racism, Swaziland


  1. Two things really.

    1. Documentaries are made for political reasons. The director chooses a side and then tries to win friends with what he chooses to show. No documentary is ever completely objective.

    2. You say that “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.”

    Well, friend, it’s either we Swazis end up being butchered by your fellow compatriots in South Africa’s informal settlements or we butcher the opressor here at home. Zimbabweans have learnt their lesson. We don’t have to learn it the hard way. You tell me which you would prefer. I’ll tell you which will happen in a few month’s time. Change is inevitable.

    Comment by Jikas | Wednesday, June 11, 2008 | Reply

  2. From my side, also two things:
    1. I agree with you that people who make documentaries want to bring a certain message across. My argument was that it is a pity that Skolnik did not allow the intelligentsia to speak as well – people who are also opposing the present system but whose voices also need to be heard.
    2. I’ve been in war and I’ve seen the effects of war. Let’s pray that it never reaches that stage in Swaziland. I’m not against the changing of the system – I’m against a revolution which will totally destroy Swaziland. As you correctly point out: Zimbabweans have learnt their lesson. We don’t need to learn it the hard way in Swaziland.

    One last remark: Yes, I am a South African by birth, but have spent almost half my life in Swaziland and intend to spend the rest of my life in Swaziland. Swaziland is my country and the Swazis are my people! I don’t want to see them or their (our) country dying.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, June 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. […] You can read the full review and the comments from readers it has attracted by clicking here. […]

    Pingback by Swaziland Media Commentary » Blog Archive » SWAZI ‘KING’ DOCO – DIRECTOR SPEAKS | Thursday, June 12, 2008 | Reply

  4. I saw the movie “Without the King” last night and was disappointed. I thought the film was interesting but was disappointed in how the director selected his sample of “revolutionaries”, most of which I inferred were drunk every time they were interviewed. I also didn’t like how he highlighted the liberation pastor as the “Christian response to the Monarchy”, namely because the drunk guy who wanted to slit the throats of the oppressors was seen in the pews of the church. He could have interviewed or followed the more organized and professional movements rather than follow what appeared to be like minimally organized splinter groups. I also, didn’t like how he portrayed the selling of intestines which they said came from the dumps. In East Africa, intestine is a family favorite known as “Matumbo” in Kenya. My wife Anne loves it and we used to buy it all the time in the local market and in the name-brand grocery stores. Anne didn’t understand that part in the movie as she didn’t recognize anything disturbing about it. But the director being an american wouldn’t have come across eating intestine if he was born and raised in the states. It’s difficult to find around here, most grocery stores and butchers don’t carry it. As it is, we have to go to obscure hispanic meat markets to find it.

    Overall, I thought he could have done a better job but am glad that someone was able to document the imbalance in Swaziland and some of the dire needs.

    Comment by bryan | Sunday, May 10, 2009 | Reply

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