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Swaziland - Religion

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.4 million (July 2015 estimate). Religious leaders estimate 90 percent of the population is Christian, approximately 2 percent is Muslim (of which most are not ethnically Swazi), and the remainder belongs to other religious groups, including those with native African beliefs.

According to anecdotal reports, approximately 40 percent of the population practices what is locally known as Zionism, a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship, (some adherents of which self-identify as evangelicals), while another 20 percent is Roman Catholic. There are also Anglicans, Methodists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovahs Witnesses, and small Jewish and Bahai communities. Zionism is widely practiced in rural areas.

Witchcraft is serious business in Swaziland. Traditional healers, known locally as tinyanga and diviners (tangoma) are classified as witches by the countrys Crimes Act of 1889. They can be sentenced to life imprisonment if they practise as witchdoctors. The law refers to them as witchdoctors. Section 4 of the Act defines a witchdoctor or witch finder as tangoma or inyanga yekuphengula (a healer who uses supernatural powers when helping his patients).

"Any person who, having named or indicated another as a wizard or witch or having by means of pretended supernatural power indicated another as being responsible for or the cause of any injury to any person, animal or thing and who is proved to be by habit or repute a witchdoctor or witch finder shall be guilty of an offence and conviction liable to a fine of E1 000 or imprisonment for life," reads Section 76 of the Act.

"Any person who is found wearing any charm, dress, ornament, emblem or insignia which according to Swazi custom indicates the wearer as a diviner, witchdoctor or witch finder shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of E200 or imprisonment not exceeding six months," reads Section 78 (2) of the Act.

In April 1940 Swazi subordinate chief, Fakisandhla Nkambule, was convicted in a Swaziland court of having through a witch-doctor procured the death of one of his wives, his brother and his brothers wife. Among the grounds of appeal, it was submitted that the plea of guilty by the witchdoctor had been allowed to prejudice his case.

Witches arent cleared to fly higher than 150 meters and violators may be arrested and fined. The clarification came in May 2013 from Civil Aviation Authority marketing and corporate affairs director Sabelo Dlamini. Witches are still free to fly lower than 150 meters, or about 500 feet, he said.

In May 2015 s self-confessed witch and her husband stunned residents when they admitted to killing a lot of people in the area to the extent that they had lost count of how many they had bewitched. The couple, who confirmed they practised witchcraft, were blamed for the lack of job opportunities in the community, lack of progress, especially among the youth, and for the mysterious deaths of residents.

Although indigenous religions are not widely practiced, traditional Swazi culture remains strong and is celebrated in the forms of religious music, dance, poetry, and craftsmanship. Two important ceremonies that are central to Swazi culture are the Incwala (fruit ceremony) and Umhlanga (reed dance).

One could say that all Swazis are following the Swazi Traditional Religion inwardly, but outwardly many are also following the teachings of Jesus Christ, Mohammed, or the Messengers of other religions. Nkosi-Dhlamini was the first Swazi king, who established the nation in about 1750AD. In the Swazi Traditional Faith, the King is the supreme guardian of the Faith. Thus Nkosi-Dhlamini is the earliest recorded leader of the Swazi Traditional Faith.

Those who have most recently died are felt to be the most accessible to mortals (for the purposes of intercession) as they are more familiar with life on earth having recently left it. The purpose of this contact and assistance revolves around problem solving. Those long dead are thought to have progressed to higher planes and thus not as accessible.

When matters for the family (or the individual) are not proceeding smoothly, the belief is that material and spiritual blessings are being withheld because the ancestors are displeased. In order to satisfy the ancestors, it is believed that an animal sacrifice is demanded as penance.

The most sacred place for the nation, and the point of national pilgrimage once each year, is the Kings cattle kraal, located at Lobamba, Swaziland. At the family level, the most sacred spot in the Swazi Traditional Religion is the cattle kraal. Traditionally, the chiefs and the heads of the families are buried just outside the cattle kraal. This is the place, which everyone has visited at least once during his or her lifetime. This is where matters of importance are discussed in the presence of the ancestors. The dust of the ancestors is there, a mingling of the living present and the ancestors past.

The constitution and laws prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of religion, including the right to worship and to change religion. Although the law requires new religious groups to register, unregistered groups were able to operate freely. Some traditional chiefs stated they would not allow the operation of businesses in their jurisdictions by individuals who appeared to be associated with Islam. Non-Christian groups reported the government provided some benefits to Christians, such as free transportation to religious activities for Zionists and airtime on state television and radio for Christians, which it did not make available to them.

The law requires religious groups to register with the government. In order to register, Christian groups must apply through one of the countrys three umbrella religious bodies (the League of Churches, Swaziland Conference of Churches, or Council of Swaziland Churches) for a recommendation, which is routinely granted.

Religious instruction is mandatory in primary school and an elective subject in secondary school. Although schools teach religion predominantly from a Christian perspective, the Ministry of Education includes a multi-religion component in the religious curriculum. The constitution provides religious groups the right to establish and operate private schools and to provide religious instruction for their students without interference from government.

According to local religious leaders, unwritten traditional laws and customs allowed approximately 360 chiefs working with their traditional councilors to restrict some rights of minority religious groups within their jurisdictions if the chiefs determined the groups practices conflicted with tradition and culture. Some chiefs stated they would not allow the operation of businesses in their jurisdictions by individuals who appeared to be associated with Islam.

The monarchy, and by extension the government, aligned itself with Christian faith-based groups and also supported many Christian activities. The government provided free transportation to Christians attending certain religious activities. Such benefits were generally provided only to indigenous Zionists. The king, the queen mother, and other members of the royal family commonly attended Zionist programs, including Good Friday and Easter weekend services, where the host church usually invited the king to preach. Official government programs generally opened with a Christian prayer and several ministers held Christian prayer vigils, which civil servants were expected to attend, to address social issues such as crime and increases in traffic accidents.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:11:13 ZULU