The custom of paying a bride price -- referred to in Swaziland as lobola -- is a longstanding tradition in this Southern African country, which is also home to Africa's last absolute monarchy. But changing times and social trends are bringing the custom into question -- among men as well as women.
There are several reasons why women's rights activists might welcome Swaziland's new Constitution, intended to replace the document that was suspended by King Sobhuza in 1973. Then again, there are also reasons why they might not. "The only way to see if the Constitution's promise can be fulfilled is to test it once it is the law of the land," says a teacher from Manzini.
In May last year, teachers in Swaziland were at loggerheads with the government over the delicate matter of admitting Aids orphans to schools free of charge. With the new academic year looming, has the situation improved? Certainly, Minister of Education Constance Simelane is making all the right noises.
South Africa's agreement to take seriously Swaziland's claim to its national territory has implications for all of Africa, and the pledges African countries have made to honour boundaries drawn up during the colonial era, diplomats have said. Because of colonial-era territorial gerrymandering, more Swazis live outside Swaziland than in the small country left behind within diminished borders.
<img src="http://www.mg.co.za/ContentImages/142915/aids_icon.gif" align=left>Read the obituaries in Swaziland, and you will discover that many people here die from unspecified "lingering illnesses". Attend funerals, and you may hear that tuberculosis, dysentery, diaorrhea -- even flu -- are also proving exceptionally lethal. Virtually no-one, it seems, is dying of Aids. This is despite the fact that an HIV prevalence of 38,8% has given Swaziland the highest Aids infection rate in the world.
National airports are the primary gateways to nations today. From the design of a terminal building to the swiftness of baggage retrieval, airports give visitors an all-important first impression of a country's modernity and capacity to provide services. They are also prestige projects for governments, however, which can lead to problems. Take the situation in Swaziland, for example.
Southern African meteorologists say regional residents can expect another year of mostly normal rainfall, but with drought-stricken areas repeating dry patterns that have persisted for years and Indian Ocean nations subject to more cyclones. The prognosticators are quite aware that weather has become a matter of political consequence.
Southern Africa is responding to its Aids pandemic with new programmes that promoters say must be as adaptable as HIV itself. "Just as HIV mutates, frustrating efforts to come up with a vaccine, so do our prevention, mitigation and treatment efforts have to be flexible and innovative," says Sylvia Kunene, a counsellor with a voluntary testing centre in Nelspruit, South Africa.
In a country where funds for social programmes are often lacking, volunteers find themselves being called on to fill the gap. Of late, however, the demands placed on these individuals have become increasingly burdensome. These concerns are echoed by the National Emergency Response Committee on HIV/Aids -- a body set up by government to coordinate Swaziland's response to the Aids pandemic.
The government of Swaziland has allocated R2-million in its budget for an anti-corruption office that does not function, but is sorely needed. "Corruption is part of any national government, any business, any place from a school headmaster's office to a religious organisation where money and influence are found," says an Mbabane attorney with the Swaziland Law Society.
Swazis tired of hearing their country condemned for having a traditional African monarchy for its governing system are countering that this very culture makes Swaziland a unique place any tourist would want to visit. Swaziland's new tourism board wants to reverse the declining fortunes of the national tourism industry.
Between a quarter and a third of Swazis are said to be in need of food aid. Food shipments are managed by the United Nations World Food Programme. But, the smooth functioning of this aid operation belies tensions among donor nations and groups over Swaziland's human rights record and government spending on behalf of the royal family.