African viewpoint: September's kings
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Zimbabwean filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo considers the difference between kings and presidents.
September. How we all love to remember September, or can't get away from her many memories.
Some dates in September refuse to recede into the distant past and keep popping up in one macabre anniversary or another.
The lion king only has to roar and his police force dutifully arrest and deport trade unionists, journalists and troublemakers”
Reaching back we can learn that this is the month in which Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in Ethiopia on 12 September 1974; that General Jan Smuts died on 11 September 1950 of a natural old age while his compatriot Steve Biko was brutally murdered on 12 September 1977; that in this auspicious month 16 September saw the abolition of slavery in all French territories in 1848.
But in this 21st Century, September's dominating date is one Tuesday morning when religions collided in two skyscrapers over America's city of migrants. All other dates, for now, must take a back seat.
And so last week was dominated by a man in Florida threatening the mad act of burning the Koran to commemorate the mad act of 11 September 2001.
September is also the month of the birth of the kingdom of Swaziland.'Exercise in envy'
While most of Africa's kingdoms were felled in the age of colonialism, 6 September 1968 saw the establishment of a tiny kingdom surrounded by rolling hills and ruled over by one absolute monarch whose word was law.
Now 42, the kingdom is run by King Mswati III, also 42.
Two years ago when the kingdom celebrated its 40th anniversary of independence, the celebrations were known as "40/40" - for the young king was the kingdom, and the kingdom the young king.
Such absolute power, say his critics, is out of step with the age of democracy.
The king can appoint the prime minister, he is not overly keen on political opposition and trade unions from within the kingdom and their international colleagues in Cosatu over in South Africa have been constantly denied active space to operate. What is it about the young king that gets democratic forces and human rights bodies so annoyed?
Watching the Swazi reed dance the other day, at which the monarch - already married to 13 women - chooses another wife should he want one, it struck me that being a guest at such an occasion must truly be an exercise in envy.
There you are, say, as an 85-year-old Robert Mugabe, special guest to the young royal, watching your 40-something host being presented with the finest specimens of womanhood in all of southern Africa and all he has to do is pick one. Having done so, he speeds off in one of his many BMWs to spend an evening with his new companion or perhaps all 14 of them.
How charmed can his life be?Jailed for stating facts
And when the so-called forces of change and democracy squeal like the rats they are for more democracy, for the curbing of his authority, the lion king only has to roar and his police force dutifully arrest and deport trade unionists, journalists and troublemakers.
The king's prime minister, unlike your own, can even publicly declare that such upstarts should be beaten on the soles of their feet and jailed - for as an African, he knows it is better to be ruled by one lion instead of 1,000 rats.
Not for King Mswati III the messy recriminations of a hypocritical world, no sanctions for him, just shopping trip after uninterrupted shopping trip in any city for him and his lovely wives.
How could you not envy such a man? If there is one thing you could criticise, it would be that at only 42, King Mswati III needs to build himself a gym for the good living is beginning to show in his weight, and his own breasts are beginning to compete for the attentions of the cameras with those of his dancing maidens.
Those who question the king's lavish lifestyle complain that the man flaunts his wealth in a country whose 1.1 million people are surrounded by poverty, that he has long been judge and executioner, that his ministers disregard the relentless pain caused by Aids - HIV is reported to affect 26% of the adult population - and consider such figures associated with the disease to be the invention of pharmaceutical companies.
The king's ministers and advisors are princes of the Swazi royal house, they have no qualms in safeguarding the status quo and sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy remains absolute because the world's attention is often elsewhere.
Yet those who rule us can sometimes be kings with another name - president seems the 21st Century's favourite synonym for such men of power - and it is possible in today's Africa to find oneself in prison for calling your president an old man, even when nature and fact would agree with you.
And should King Mswati III live to be 50 on the occasion of his country's 50th anniversary eight Septembers from now, you can rest assured that his guests will include all the presidents from the last celebrations, safe in the knowledge that their own "kingdoms" will return them to power too, for democracy can be like God himself saying: "Don't go anywhere, your country needs you".
And so as September rolls on with her heavy memories, what lessons would King Mswati give to the world?
Surely men like him would know how to deal with a troublesome pastor from Florida keen on lighting up the world by torching a holy book?
If Pastor Jones was in Mbabane, how many of us would have protested if the Swazi Prime Minister, Barnabas Dlamini, had taken a pedal with spikes to the souls of Mr Jones' feet?
Any pastor would know how to walk the path of peace then, wouldn't he?