28 Jan 2008
Leaving South Africa and driving through a hand-operated gate is like traveling back in time. The small sign at the border crossing confirms what one can feel all around this is Swaziland!
Swaziland became independent from its status as a British protectorate in 1968. Today, with one million people, it remains one of the few absolute monarchies in the world. Once used as a decadent playground for the white South Africans during the apartheid era this country has a much different atmosphere now. It offers a mixture of colonial heritage, outstanding scenery, and an open window to the charm and self-reliant lifestyle of a time gone by.
Self-reliance is the way of survival for most. Along the few paved roads, commonly called tar roads, cars and trucks speed through the countryside. Still, few can afford the luxury and walk instead.
Nearby corn, cabbage, and other vegetables are cared for by hand. Tractors are seldom used. The people work hard and the produce appears to be of top quality in The Swazi/Taiwan Vegetable Production Project. The facility provides good training for improving the agricultural output of the farmers. This is important since 80% of the people live in the rural areas and depend upon farming for their livelihood. Farming practices of the past have resulted in serious erosion, destroying some otherwise productive cropland.
The population centers are great distances from most people. The tar roads seldom reach the many small communities throughout the countryside. Fortunately, the dirt roads are well maintained and easily accommodate cars and trucks. These roads are, for the most part, used by herd boys driving the cattle to another pasture, an occasional team of oxen or people just doing their daily chores.
Sometimes they spend much of their day just walking down the road. Other times narrow footpaths lead to a neighbors home just across the field. People can often be seen waiting at a bus stop. The large busses making their daily rounds seem out of place as they roar by with their load of passengers. Travel is often a challenge during the rainy season as the streams overflow and the red clay soil turns to mud.
Those doing their laundry at the rivers edge may travel to town on the bus to purchase items that cannot be produced at home. Occasionally, a passing motorist provides a ride. A shiny new pickup is quickly loaded for the trip. This convenience offers little in the way of dignity or comfort but all are grateful for the kindness of the motorist.
Most of the people in the rural areas live in small compounds held together by common family bonds. This collection of homes called a homestead has their gardens, their cattle, grain storage bins, and sometimes a church. There is a nearby source of water a well, a spring or a creek. For the elementary age school children, their small school is usually only a few miles from home. High schools, on the other hand, are few and far between. The students who are fortunate enough to attend are excited about their future and their soccer game.
In the rural areas, places to purchase a variety of goods are at most road intersections. The most basic of health care and supplies are available at the few community clinics. However, women usually give birth at home with the help of a midwife. There are few police and law enforcement offices in the area.
This is a land of few fences. Fences are most often used to keep cattle out of cotton and cornfields or from wandering around in the yard of ones home. Otherwise, cattle seem to roam freely constrained only by available forage and supervision of the herd boys.
As they go off into the fog, carrying their load of firewood on their heads, these girls seem to represent life in the rural areas. A fog of uncertainty, of cultural tradition, and the fear of traveling beyond the familiar shrouds their lives. Few are searching for a way out of the fog. They do not know about the light of God to lead their way.
There is another part of Swaziland. Near the capital city of Mbabane is a place where tourists can buy a likeness of the king or watch as an artisan carefully polishes a hand carved elephant. In another location along the highway, near a bus stop and a phone booth is a young man carving fish and animals out of soapstone. He finds the soapstone nearby and sells all of his creations to passing motorists..
Also near the capital city is a well-maintained cultural exhibit. Here, one can discover how the people lived in times past. A short distance from the exhibit is a stream fed by Mantenga Falls glistening in the evening sunlight. Down the creek and across the canyon is Execution Rock. Before Independence this was used as a place of judgment for convicted murderers. From its rocky peak, these persons were pushed to their death.
Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland and with a population of 60,000, exudes growth and economic activity. The shopping center downtown is where the well-dressed government officials and bureaucrats enjoy their status. Near downtown is the newspaper office, the television station, and the hospital. Panel beaters located at the edge of town repair damaged cars. In the center of town is the bus rank. It is always busy with people. This is where most people catch a bus to the neighboring South African Province of Mpumalanga, the home of more Swazis than live in Swaziland.
The King of Swaziland lives near here, as do his dozen or so wives each with their own mansion, servants, and a luxury Mercedes.
Yes, this is Swaziland a land of beauty, a land of traditions, a land of wealth, a land of poverty. But, it is also a land where 40% of its people are infected with HIV/AIDS. One-third of the population, 300,000 people, will probably die of this disease within the next ten years.
Will you pray that the people will discover the way out of the fog of tradition, of ancestor worship and darkness? Will you pray that they will step into the light of the one true Savior, Jesus Christ?
CLOSING: Song from one of video clips.
These children may walk the roads of their fathers OR they can take the path that leads to eternal life. Will you pray that the people of Swaziland will come to know the love of Jesus? Is God telling you to come and walk among these people to teach them the way?
Overlay: Pray for the Future of Swaziland
Pronunciation Guide: (Well tell you how to say these in person.)
Mantenga mahn TANG uh
Swaziland SWAH zee land
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