It may be a dim silver lining to a particularly dark cloud, but one apparent result of the Aids pandemic in Swaziland is that fewer people in the country are smoking. Although the Council on Smoking, Alcohol and Drugs (Cosad) has no statistics on the reported decline in smoking, it says there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to buttress the claim.
''Ritual murder is a fact in Swaziland. Our only protection is to adopt a defensive attitude,'' says Robert Dube, a businessperson in the capital city, Mbabane. ''Ritual murder'' has allegedly long been a dark and secret part of politics in Swaziland, a conservative kingdom where traditions good and bad are a key part of life.
A new education initiative has been started in Swaziland to assist children who have lost parents to the Aids pandemic. The government says it will start paying the tuition fees of all Aids orphans, many of whom would not be able to attend school otherwise.
A heated debate is underway in Swaziland about whether children who fail English should be forced to repeat the academic year. ''The English language requirement is a millstone around the neck of every Swazi school child,'' says Agnes Khumalo, a public school teacher in the northern Hhohho province.
Swaziland is currently in the midst of its sacred Incwala ceremony, which many believe is crucial for the welfare of the country. However, the celebrations have not been without controversy. Variants of Incwala, a harvest festival, are celebrated by a number of ethnic groups in Southern Africa.
Swaziland is currently in the midst of its sacred Incwala ceremony, which many believe is crucial for the welfare of the country. However, the celebrations have not been without controversy. The pageants have a strong supernatural element, relying on ancestral spirits, magic and ritual for success.
This year is shaping up as the year of prison reform in Swaziland, and Aids is the catalyst. ''We have come a long way in acknowledging the impact of Aids within prisons,'' the head of Correctional Services said. Legal observers say this has resulted in an end to the denialism that previously characterised the debate about HIV in jails.
This year is shaping up as the year of prison reform in Swaziland, and Aids is the catalyst. ''It would be wrong to suggest that prisons are inhumane in Swaziland, but there is much room for improvement to make them safe from HIV infection, inmate abuse and other ills that are more or less endemic to African prisons,'' said an officer with the Correctional Services.
How does it feel to be an orphan in a country where by tradition there are no orphans? ''The extended family has completely broken down today. There is no place for orphans,'' says Dr Martin Weber of the International Red Cross's Swaziland branch. ''Aids is creating these orphans.''
Swaziland's new Constitution has been delayed again, as Prince David Dlamini conferred with constitutional experts. About R112-million has been spent on the exercise, which was decried from its inception by pro-democracy groups as a ''non-starter''.
As the international community marks World Aids Day on Monday December 1, Swaziland has reached an unhappy milestone. The country now has the same proportion of adults infected with HIV as Botswana, the country with the greatest HIV prevalence rate.
The road transportation business in Southern Africa is fraught with obstacles. It is a risky profession characterised by trucks getting hijacked at gunpoint, and a high incidence of HIV infection among workers. However, industry players say it is also providing opportunities for promoting black empowerment.