Art & DesignThe Dark Arts of eSwatini

Ida MwangiFebruary 4, 202312056 min
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Do you believe in magic? But you do believe in arts, right? Well, some call magic dark arts so maybe a delve into some art?

Just around mid-2019, the inhabitants of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) were banned from hosting a popular magic and witchcraft competition in Manzini, the country’s second city. The contest is known as the Tinyanga (Zulu word for traditional doctor or healer), and it brings witchdoctors together to compete against each other in a power-play by exhibiting their prowess in a battle of skills. So, why the ban if it has been popular? The government of eSwatini described it as a weird practice that was likely to poison the minds of the people, especially children. The competition is believed to have first happened under a previous King Sobhuza II, who died in 1982. As stated by the organizing team’s lead, the king was concerned about unnecessary competition between healers, so he called them to one place so that they could demonstrate their powers. Now, eSwatini’s laws classify witchcraft, sorcery, or the practice of voodoo as punishable offenses according to the Witchcraft Act of 1889.

May 2013 marked the end of the days when witches in eSwatini could enjoy untethered freedom flying high. According to the marketing and corporate affairs director of the Civil Aviation Authority, Sabelo Dlamini, a witch on a broomstick should not fly above the 150-meter (just under 500-feet) limit. Reports suggest that radio-controlled aircraft and kites are subject to airspace regulation. Violators are subject to an arrest and a fine of more than $50,000, according to a South African newspaper, The Times. GlobalPost noted that Dlamini may have used this familiar and easy to understand metaphor to explain the new legal territory, since after all a broomstick is considered the same as any other heavier-than-air airborne vehicle. Yet he made a crucial metaphorical oversight.  According to American Livewire, traditional brooms in Swaziland are comprised of bundle sticks or twigs tied together with no handle. While witches are known to use them for applying or flinging “potions” across large areas, they are both generally used for transportation purposes.

In some parts of the world, being suspected of sorcery can lead to harsh sentences. Governments still go after witches in at least 5 known places. Swaziland has regulations on broomstick flights. Romania has a witch tax. Saudi Arabia has dedicated a whole police unit to fight magic. Central African Republic has a court system clogged with charges against witches. Even Iran’s political advisers were charged with involvement in black magic in 2011.

Whatever the case, witchcraft is no light matter in Swaziland. The belief is strong. An average of 55% of people believe in witchcraft in sub-Saharan Africa, exclusive of Swaziland. This is according to Gallup. In September 2013, neighboring Zimbabwe had 2 “witches” arrested  after locals said they had “crash-landed” outside a residence in a suburb of Harare. It turns out that they were “found naked with an assortment of witchcraft-associated paraphernalia, including a live owl, 2 winnowing baskets (used for flying in witchcraft mythology), a baboon skeleton and an orange substance in a 500ml Coca-Cola bottle”. I am now left to wonder whether it is an affair of the south as pertains to the continent (Africa).

Now that I’ve stirred the air around what lies in Swaziland, maybe next time we can look at the arts and crafts that the beautiful country houses as their pride.

Ida Mwangi

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