‘Restoring indigenous dignity has to start with the State’ – Joy Ndwandwe
King Sobhuza II once warned the nation against culture being infiltrated by modernity and advised emaSwati to take what is good from other cultures and leave what is undesirable.
This message resonated prominently during a public lecture themed ‘Knocking on Moral Values to Integrate Indigenous Knowledge with Development’, hosted by the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC) at Happy Valley Hotel.
Executive Director Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini noted that modern societies are influenced by all cultural practices hence the term residual culture. “|Residual culture is the influence of all cultural practices on modern societies, consciously or unconsciously, it is a sort of cultural or social residue that is built into the infrastructure of dominant cultures,” he explained.
Dr Dlamini further noted that some people might think of culture as archaic, but there is a difference between archaic (mostly abandoned and outdated cultural practices) and residual culture (one that is certainly alive and active in shaping society even if it does not come from the dominant culture itself).
“King Sobhuza once warned the nation against our culture being infiltrated by modernity. He advised emaSwati to take what is good from other cultures and to leave what is undesirable; this lecture continues on that discourse to remind ourselves that in our culture lies the solutions to deal with some of the emerging social and economic issues that face our country and economy. We believe King Sobhuza’s message was for our generation and there is no better person to share this indigenous knowledge, indigenous dignity and philosophy of King Sobhuza II than Miss Joy Ndwandwe.”
Miss Ndwandwe, a heritage and development consultant who was the guest speaker at the event, believes emaSwati need to start afresh and go through restorative action to reclaim their indigenous dignity.
“We have to unblock the knowledge blockages because we come from an informed space that we do have indigenous knowledge; the knowledge is all over, there is knowledge explosion and intractable problems of modernity. We have to explore other research methodologies and reject all dogma and ideology so that we can start afresh.
“In order to start afresh, we need to reject all these dogmas and systems of thoughts that have captured us. We also need to acknowledge scholars who say we have the right cognitive justice which enables us to have the right forms of knowledge. Plurality is active democracy and here we’re talking knowledge space not politics; politics of knowledge and the important thing is to understand that nature is part of the constitution. Nature is our friend, nature is our source of livelihood. These are the stories that need to be told in the 21st century because we have suffered a very powerful genocide. Storytellers must come into this domain; when we talk about indigenous knowledge, we must start from a restorative action,” she noted.
Miss Ndwandwe continued: “What informs a public policy of the state? Individualism? Have you ever read a policy from government that incorporates Ubuntu? The answer is no; clearly our government needs to be taken through a restorative action stage. There are toxic elements within our human actions that come from colonialism. We need to understand that when a state does not know its own indigenous knowledge then it is creating intractable problems. The state needs to understand that it is indigenous and therefore public policies must reflect that.”
Miss Ndwandwe pointed out that policymakers need to understand that they do not have monopoly over policy and knowledge. She said communities continue to strive whether or not there is a state because there is a knowledge reservoir within them that enables communities to survive, which is why emaSwati need to restore this indigenous knowledge base.
“As emaSwati we are part of the historical Bantu pilgrimage, it is our dignity to understand that we are part of this pilgrimage. Ubuntu comes from that. The historical context of Ubuntu is real and we have to appreciate it. For instance, the African story of the devious hare (chakijane) is real. We still have ‘devious hares’ in our midst, which can be characterised by such incidences as sexual harassment in the workplace. This is a foreign concept that has infiltrated our society,” Miss Ndwandwe added.
She said it is important to understand that there is no insular knowledge; it has to have a variety of transformative interventions that come with it and bring it out so that it becomes affirmed indigenous knowledge such that it can give hope. Miss Ndwandwe further noted that traditional ceremonies like Incwala define emaSwati’s indigenous dignity, a historical part of Ubuntu which is integrated in Eswatini culture.
“Ubuntu is continuous consciousness, it is what defines us as a people, it constitutes of our pride, the type of dignity that could prevent young children from engaging in sexual activity and falling pregnant. We need cosmic and social order, harmonious human existence and co-existence. In Ubuntu there is always the belief of a supreme being, which gives us hope. This issue of teenage pregnancies being rife in the country means we are fragmented as a society.
“We have lost the cosmic order of kutsatsana (marriage); people are now more concerned with lobola in monetary terms. There is a science in the traditions that define the lobola ceremony, the significance of the joining of two people and acceptance of the different roles a man and woman play in the institution of marriage – and this is the cosmic order that comes with the dignity of that marriage.”
Miss Ndwandwe advised that there is a need to go back to the historical architecture of the traditional family and the use of traditional structures such as kaGogo centres to teach young people about sexuality and the restoration of indigenous dignity.
Over 1,300 learners drop out due to pregnancy each year
Teenage pregnancy has always been viewed as a health and social problem, yet if we were to understand the economic losses that Eswatini suffers due to teenage pregnancy, government would be in a better position to formulate policies that lead to the prevention of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies among adolescents.
The preliminary findings of a study being conducted by SEPARC reveal that in the past seven years, 52,814 pupils have dropped out of school and of these, 18.1% of the cases were due to pregnancy related issues (77.9% girls and 22.1% boys). As a result, government has lost approximately E898,200 in the past six years through the funding of primary education for pupils who have dropped out and if it were to fund secondary education, it could lose an estimated E49,674,000 in lieu of dropouts due to teenage pregnancies.
“If more girls and boys continue to drop out of school, teenage pregnancies pose a threat to the sustainability of the country’s economy since it can deteriorate the stock of human capital and the standard of living in which Eswatini’s future generations are being raised,” related SEPARC researcher Nompulelo Dlamini.
“On the other hand, the enrolment statistics reveal the easily forgotten side of teenage pregnancies, which is the fact that it also affects teenage boys in a serious way. Boys tend to be a neglected piece of the teenage pregnancy puzzle yet any child’s future lost to teenage pregnancy is a cost to the entire economy and a barrier to inclusive growth and development.”
Explaining, Nompulelo stated that teenage pregnancy is an economic problem as a child is an investment to both government and parents, and since they are the future of the economy its sustainability could be limited if these children are excluded from future meaningful economic activity due to pregnancy in the critical stages of their lives.
Also, the study finds that teenage pregnancy is rife in the rural areas, with more primary school dropouts in the Shiselweni region (93% between 2009 and 2015). Between 2001 and 2017, Manzini region had the highest overall dropouts (33%) followed by Hhohho (31%), Shiselweni (21%) and Lubombo (15%).
The social and economic vulnerabilities of the girl child differs in each region, hence understanding such vulnerabilities could reduce repeat births among teenage mothers. The study seeks to provide the probabilities of a girl child having more children as per location, as well as seeks to understand the different vulnerabilities these girls experience and further quantify the losses government suffers per region.
‘Sexual harassment a symptom of socialisation, lack of boundaries’
“Restoring indigenous dignity in the workplace is important for productivity and economic growth, as we are products of our households,” says SEPARC Research Economist Mangaliso Mohammed.
“Clearly, sexual harassment is a symptom of our socialisation, upbringing and/or values we hold, hence we come to the workplace with a lot of ‘baggage,’ yet we want to be as productive as possible.”
Presenting a study commissioned by the Swaziland Business Coalition on HIV and Health (SWABCHA) titled ‘Baselining Sexual Harassment in the Private & NGO Sector Workplace in Eswatini’, he noted that the baseline study on sexual harassment in the workplace was conducted to determine the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of both employees and employers on sexual harassment and gender based violence in the workplace.
The study also sought to establish benchmark indicators to inform programming interventions to promote sexual autonomy and bodily integrity in the workplace, as well as to identify the capacities of staff and management to support employees whose rights have been violated.
“Workplace sexual harassment is an issue of national and international importance, an internationally condemned form of sex discrimination and a violation of human rights. Sexual harassment is not a joke, it is an egregious violation people’s personal bodies and dignity!” added Mangaliso.
He noted that Eswatini lacks information on the nature and extent of workplace sexual harassment despite incessant media reports suggesting that the problem is significant and widespread. Also, Mangaliso stated that the country’s policy documents indicate that exposure to workplace sexual assaults are a significant contributing factor to new HIV infections.
“Sexual harassment can be a symptom of broken systems on modelling good behaviour at the household level, where men and women are viewed as sex objects, and there is a lack of boundaries. Relationship dynamics at home spill over to the workplace. People spend a substantial part of their lives at work, hence there is a need to establish interventions that promote sexual autonomy and bodily integrity in the workplace,” he advised.
“Focus should be on education and modelling good behaviour rather than creating/ or enacting stringent laws. It all begins at home – at the household level by restoring our indigenous dignity.”
Meanwhile, Researcher Tengetile Hlophe, who presented the preliminary findings of a study on the ‘Historical Perspective of Innovation in Eswatini’, noted that most cultural aspects have a strong and lasting impact on the tendency to innovate at the national level (Efrat (2014).
She reported that the study found that emaSwati use indigenous knowledge in agricultural practises, artefacts/objects, and traditional medicine. Furthermore, she noted that Eswatini was historically a vibrant industrial hub, for instance, in 1972 there were 63 manufacturing companies in the country. Tengetile noted that Eswatini has proven to be an innovative country, for example, a tractor called ‘Tinkhabi’ which served various purposes such as ploughing the fields and milling maize, was once produced in the Kingdom.
“How can we use our culture as a pit-stop to fuel innovation and innovative thinking activities in our economy? Most of the people involved in innovation in Eswatini rely on indigenous knowledge passed down through family and friends,” she said.
The study found that 79.1% of the producers in the traditional sector have introduced an innovation of some sort to improve their products. However, there are still a number of challenges that deter innovation, such as scarcity of raw material, lack of technology and equipment, infrastructure, seasonality of the business, and low customer base. Regulation, prices, standards, and quality assurance are also a deterrent to innovation.
Tengetile advised that it is important for emaSwati to tap into indigenous knowledge to produce goods and services that are unique to Eswatini as these will help the country build a comparative advantage because they reflect differentiation and self-expression.