By Leo Igwe
Reason is at a shortfall as superstition thrives and undermines the growth and development of Swaziland
Recently I attended a human rights meeting in Swaziland . It was held in Ezulwini, one of the country’s few cities and tourist destinations. This event offered me an opportunity to acquaint myself with the Swazi society-the history, thought, culture and tradition of the people. I interviewed many Swazis, met with some university students and activists to find out about the religious and superstitious beliefs in the country. Swaziland in a land locked nation surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique . It is one of the smallest countries in Africa with a population of almost one million comprising primarily Bantu speaking Swazi people. The Kingdom was colonized by Britain and gained independence in 1968. Swaziland is a deeply religious and superstitious society. The Swazi people like other Africans believe in God, spirits and charms to a fault. They revere these supernatural objects and uphold all sorts of irrational beliefs and traditional nonsense to the extent that they undermine their cultural development, political emancipation and civilization.
According to the online Encyclopedia – the Wikipedia – 82 percent of Swazis are Christians, while 18 percent profess Islam, Bahai, Hindusm, and other beliefs.
But as often the case, religions have remained impotent in the face of country’s multifaceted problems and crisis. Many Swazis live in chronic poverty. Hunger and starvation are widespread. AIDS has taken a heavy toll on the society with 40% of the population believed to be infected with HIV. The virus has depleted the country’s working population and orphaned many children. A major humanitarian crisis looms in the land.
Due to lack of adequate care and support, many children orphaned by AIDS are forced to roam the streets and scavenge for food and survival. Not surprising religious exploitation is high in the country. Religious groups are waxing strong. They are taking advantage of the people’s desperate situation and gullibility..
Local and foreign evangelists are organizing revivals across the country where they get the people to part with their money in exchange for divine blessings, comforting myths and miraculous nonsense that do not change or improve their dire situation. Islamic clerics from Asia and North Africa are trooping to the country. They are building mosques and Islamic centres where they indoctrinate the people with dead and disabling dogmas. In fact in Swaziland religion is thriving while the people are dying. The faiths are flourishing while the faithful are famishing.
No matter the religion or belief they may profess, no matter the level of education they may attain, most Swazis believe in charms popularly known as muti. The belief is so prevalent that Swaziland can rightly be called the Land of Muti . Muti is a magical potion prepared by local witchdoctors called sangomas. Sangomas are believed to have supernatural powers which they use to produce this substance.
In Swaziland , people attribute everything – good or bad – that happens to muti. They believe one can use muti to kill one’s enemy or rival, ward off death, disease or mis fortune Swazis believe one can use muti to enhance one’s sexual libido, get a lover, wife or husband, have children, get a job, check marital infidelity, succeed in exams, business or at election. One popular superstition in Swaziland is that one can use muti to send thunder and lightning to kill someone else. Because of the high demand for muti in Swaziland , ritual killing is common in the country.
Ritual murder especially of children is a common experience in Swaziland . During the human rights meeting, there were several reported cases of ritual murder and sacrifice And many Swazis I spoke to said they were expecting more ritual killings to occur as the country prepares for elections in November. Politicians would be looking for human body parts to prepare the muti which they believe would help them win elections. In May, the media reported a very pathetic and horrifying case of ritual sacrifice. Somebody found a baby that was tied with its umbilical cord in a bush.
And in a related development, two charms were found in the field during football matches. One was a wrapped piece of paper containing the names of players and the other was a dead chicken. Swazis believe charms could make a team win a match or be defeated as the case may be. Meanwhile Swaziland is not among Africa ‘s top football nations. Neither its national team nor club side has ever won any major tournament in Africa .
The need for skepticism in Swaziland cannot be overemphasized. In fact the skeptical consciousness is critical to the quest for change and progress in the country. During my stay I visited the University of Swaziland in Mastapha. I interviewed 9 students to know their thoughts and views about many superstitious and irrational beliefs in the country. Only one student showed distinct signs and inclination to skepticism and critical mindedness. Other found it hard to reason outside and beyond local superstitions. In Swaziland like in other parts of sub Saharan Africa, skepticism and critical thinking are the exceptions; blind faith, dogma and conformism are the rule. And this situation must change if Swaziland must experience genuine growth and transformation. The people of Swaziland need the skeptical awakening to abandon ancient beliefs and customs that darken and destroy their society. Skeptical reasoning would help Swaziland to combat ritual killing and sacrifice. This horrifying ritual persists because the Swazi people have refused to challenge, question and critically examine the underlying misperceptions and misconceptions like the belief in muti. Skeptical intelligence would facilitate democratic change in this Kingdom. Part of the reason why the country’s transition process is wobbling is the belief that the King has supernatural powers. And that he uses these `powers’ to counteract and neutralize any form of opposition. Absolutely there is no evidence for this. And all Swazis need to embrace this and other liberating truths. All Swazis need to exercise their will to doubt, oppose, object, disagree, disbelief and differ with anyone including the King without fear.
The people of Swaziland need muster the skeptical will and courage to challenge the alleged powers of the sangomas, and combat their dark, negative and destructive influence on Swazi culture and society. Swaziland needs scientists, technologists, engineers, philosophers and medical doctors not sangomas or witch doctors to grow, develop and flourish. The people of Swaziland need skepticism and scientific rationality to build a modern, civilized and progressive nation, and realize a true democracy and genuine enlightenment in this 21st century.