Mbabane, Swaziland | 28 January 2015
Last week on this page I mentioned a few things I liked about Swaziland, as well as a few things I have learned during my short time in the Kingdom.
Kubeketela being just one — which is not to say patience now comes naturally.
In a case of innocent oversight I failed to mention two other crucial things I have come to appreciate in Swaziland: the importance of a greeting and the importance of a farewell.
In my Australian (or Western) culture, greetings and farewells are important, but it seems more emphasis is placed on these beginnings and endings in Swazi culture.
Yes, these greetings and farewells can often be prolonged by endless protocol and predictable ceremony, but that does not mean I don’t appreciate them or respect their significance within the culture.
And please don’t interpret that to mean I am one of those ‘culturally sensitive’ aid workers who never has a bad word to say about developing countries for fear of offending people or appearing politically incorrect.
For better or worse, I have also come to understand the importance of respect in Swazi culture; and all the deep and varying and often hypocritical meanings that ‘respect’ can take.
As alluded to last week: one man’s respect is another man’s painful silence; one’s man’s respect is another man’s lost livelihood.
And here below is my point, with great respect, of course.
What I have come to discover in Swaziland is that if you are going to disrespect someone, do it respectfully, and preferably after a prolonged and polite greeting. In this sense, you might say that Swazi culture lends itself rather well to diplomacy.
Moreover, if you are going to criticise someone or suggest something unpalatable, do it respectfully, preferably after a long and lighthearted greeting.
Then, when the punch comes, your opponent is filled with enough praise to withstand the blow. Let’s call it ‘criticism through praise’. Yes, that’s what I’ve learned in Swaziland — criticism through praise: a great piece of peaceful weaponry.
Thank you, Swaziland.
Truth be told, I have been on the receiving end of a few of these ‘respectful punches’ once or twice during my time in the kingdom. They can certainly hurt, especially when you don’t see them coming. But, ultimately, they are good for thickening up the skin and toughening up the character.
Or, if someone doesn’t like what you say in Swaziland, you can expect a very long silence in response. That too, took me quite a while to work out. I just thought a lot of people were hard of hearing.
No, what I was hearing was a silent protest to something I’d said. But worry not, eventually the lines of communication would always open up again.
And so, with these rather rambling sentences I bid farewell to this column, and to the two or three kind readers who tell me they enjoy (or otherwise) skimming over it on a Wednesday.
Thank you Times of Swaziland for allowing me the indulgence to tap out a few words each week, and thank you for taking the time to read it. And in case I forget to say it later on, thank you friends and colleagues in Swaziland — you have made me feel more at home than you know.
As some poet once said, May the road rise up to meet you and may the wind be always at your back…
This column was originally published in the Times of Swaziland on 28 January 2015