Life in Eswatini

Life in Eswatini

Eswatini, with its population of 1.17 million, is the world's last absolute monarchy and one that still recognises Taiwan rather than China. Life in Eswatini is dominated by the fact that some 28% of young women aged 15-19 are living with AIDS. There is a real risk that the Swazi population will cease to exist in the forthcoming decades unless this is reversed. The first case of HIV was reported in the country in 1986 and the virus swiftly took hold with Eswatini now having one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, however its should be noted that, while in many other African countries the very existence of HIV/AIDS was ignored, Eswatini responded swiftly by setting up the Swaziland National AIDS Programme (SNAP) which launched campaigns aimed at providing information and education on HIV, the promotion of the use of condoms and the screening of all donated blood.

The World Health Organisation has even praised Eswatini for its "high level of political commitment" in managing HIV in the country. (Some of the methods, however, could be deemed extreme. For example in 2001 the king forbade men from sleeping with teenage girls for the next five years to help stem the spread of the virus and in 2009 one member of the Swaziland parliament suggested that there should be a compulsory AIDS test for every Swazi and those infected should be marked with a permanent logo on their buttocks. The MP stated "before having sex with anyone, people will have to check their partners' buttocks before proceeding". This particular idea did not gain widespread favour and was not implemented.)

As a result of the spread of the virus, life expectancy hasn't risen in line with other developing countries and has in fact dipped from 61yrs in 2001 to 60.19yrs today. The HDI (Human Development Index), measured by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the World Bank, is based upon the life expectancy, literacy, access to knowledge and living standards of a country. Eswatini is in 138th place out of 189 countries and territories in 2019 and, while levels of poverty and living standards there are above other sub-Saharan countries, they remain below medium human development.

Most people in Eswatini are poor, with a national poverty rate of about 63% and 31% of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition. Poverty is compounded by the high unemployment rate which has remained static at around 41% of the workforce for well over a decade. Of those who do work, government delivered services account for 50% of GDP, manufacturing (37%) and forestry and farming 13%. Just 10.25% of land in Eswatini is arable however 75% of the population is dependent on it for subsistence farming although droughts have also seen a change to farming with ongoing declining harvests leading to those working on the land moving away from growing the Swazi staple crop of maize (introduced there in 1820 from the neighbouring Portuguese colony of Mozambique) to 'cash crops' such as cotton. The difference being that traditionally crops were grown to eat, whereas now many grow crops to sell to purchase food. The manufacturing sector is also currently under threat as its main products, textiles and sugar, are losing their markets with many countries are now looking to the east for cheaper imports.

Life for Women in Eswatini

Most Swazi (79%) live in rural communities with many villages comprising of a dozen or so traditional huts made from grass, reeds and mud. Running water isn't available for the vast majority, so much of each day is spend travelling to unprotected wells or to parasite contaminated rivers, where water carriers are filled up once or twice a day, depending on need. These rivers and unprotected wells are the main source of water for most inhabitants in Eswatini, particularly in rural communities where only 42% have access to tap water (rising to 87% in urban areas) and 59% of the population use pit latrines in the absence of any proper facilities leading to health issues. Daily life in Eswatini is centred around the traditional homestead with the kagogo (granny's hut) being the focus of activity and the sibaya (cattle byre) also playing an integral role. Next to the kagogo is the edladeni (main kitchen) which is where the women in the homestead will gather in the early evening to share knowledge with the young girls about the facts of life and the role of women in Eswatini culture and society. At the same time the men and boys of the family will gather in their own designated area ~ the esangweni ~ and the father will teach the boys similar facts of life, sex education and the role of the Swazi male.

Neither the males nor females will enter each other's areas and the girls and boys will sleep in separate huts either side of the homestead. Next to the kagogo is the first wife's traditional beehive hut and her kitchen, then the other wife's huts extending outwards in an arc, each with their own kitchen. One of the reasons the homestead has such a fundamental role in Eswatini life and culture is the belief that the spirits of the family's ancestors reside within the homestead. Swazi people believe that life continues after death and their traditional lifestyle is guided by these ancestors. As such, bringing a bride, an unknown spirit, into the homestead, is a major event and new brides will often be abused by the existing women in fear that she may disturb the future peace of the entire homestead. However this traditional family lifestyle is being eroded by the breakdown of the impact of HIV. If the younger generation manage to remain infection free themselves in adulthood, they would nonetheless have missed out on education (only one in five of all Swazi children attend secondary school in any event, partially down to the fees), and become homeless or forced to live with others who cannot afford to care for them, placing them at risk of violence and abuse.

Life for Children in Eswatini

There are two main events in Swazi life, the Incwala in December and the Umhlanga in late August / early September. The Incwala is the more important of the two and most Swazi will converge at the Royal Kraal at Ludzidzini where they are joined by the king for weeks of dancing to celebrate 'first fruits'. The Umhlanga is the second most important cultural ceremony where uncommitted girls pay homage to the king and queen mother. In Eswatini life, children are not recognised as beings until they are three months old being described as 'things' with no names nor any physical contact with men. After three months they are acknowledged as a person and are normally carried in a sling on their mother's back, not being weaned until they are two or three years of age. The video below provides some insights into life in Eswatini.

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