Smoke and festivals in Swaziland

2008-09-19 00:00

My recent visit to Swaziland must be considered my most successful in a country devastated by Aids and poverty.

Leaving the midlands, after the second year of runaway fires, we headed north through the still-smouldering fires around Paulpietersburg to the Swazi border post outside Piet Retief. Crossing the border took us into a bleak dense fog of smoke hanging over the highlands of Swaziland. The fires had also torn through this country, fanned by horrific winds. Once again vast areas of timber and veld had been destroyed.

It is amazing how, in a country facing devastation, the residents overcome their pain with celebrations. We arrived on the Monday of the annual reed dance where 130 000 maidens gathered at King Mswati’s palace in the beautiful Ezelweni Valley to participate in the festivities of this joyous occasion. Meanwhile, there was a hive of activity as preparations for the 40/40 celebrations continued. These were being held to honour the king’s 40th birthday as well as 40 years of independence from Britain.

Even those protesting against the shortage of jobs and general poverty in the country participated in their own way by toyi-toyiing in the main street of the capital, Mbabane. Riot police extricated us and allowed us to get on our way to have discussions with Dr Robert Twala, the newly appointed permanent secretary and now head of agriculture development in Swaziland.

The Heifer International (HI) project is seen as one of the most successful agricultural development programmes operating in 15 countries in Africa. For years I believed that this programme needed to be extended to Swaziland and finally, seated in my bakkie was Robson Zimuto, director of Heifer International in the southern African region, heading for a meeting with Twala.

The meeting could not have been more successful. Twala appreciates that he has five years (his term of office) to make an impact on the poverty in Swaziland and he grabbed at the opportunity to have HI involved. He immediately instructed his directors of veterinary services and animal production to grasp the hand of HI and develop the relationship. What a pleasure to hear a senior government official say: “How soon can you start?” and “Draw up the memorandum of understanding this month, not next month”.

At a previous meeting with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported company, Technoserve, it was accepted that it would also support the efforts of HI in Swaziland. Following on from this was a visit to a community where ministers from the Anglican church in Swaziland and the U.S. were developing a centre for HIV orphans and their grandparents, the middle generation having been destroyed by Aids. Heifer International will also be able to play a part in these communities.

In addition, “my dairies” in Malkerns are progressing well, achieving their targets and heading for better performance all round. The input from three midlands dairy farmers — Peter Griffin, Andrew McLeish and Rene Stubbs — has made a great difference to the managers on this Swazi project.

It is interesting to note that two cases of Rift Valley Fever have been reported in Swaziland. One was at Tshaneni in the north and the other in the heart of Swaziland at Malkerns. (The mosquito is the carrier of the virus). This has caused great consternation because it is related to wet weather and we are currently in the middle of a dry winter.

A horse trainer in Malkerns said that she had lost a horse to horse sickness during the winter. This disease is also related to wet weather and biting insects. She is convinced that global warming is to blame. Horse owners should put their horses away at night if there are midges around.

With mission accomplished we headed home before the Saturday celebrations started. It was a successful week indeed.

• Alastair Paterson is an agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817, 082 880 9002 or e-mail

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