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Abandoned identities

6 May 2008

Whilst attending the 43rd session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Swaziland MRG’s International Human Rights Officer for Africa, Paile Chabane, continues with her work to facilitate the setting up of an African Minorities Forum.

I wake up not feeling too well… have a bad headache and already wonder if I will be able to make it to our meeting in the afternoon. But other responsibilities force me to get up anyway and go into Mbabane town. Again I am struck at how unfamiliar this place feels.

Our side event is scheduled to start at 3pm and CEMIRIDE are busy finalizing the arrangements. Having arrived three days earlier, which afforded them the opportunity to attend the three-day NGO Forum which precedes the official Commission session, they say they managed to sell the idea to participants and so we could expect a satisfactory turn out. In the end, our event attracts about 22 people but sadly the Commissioners are busy with other meetings, and in spite of this being in their backyard, none of them are able to attend.

Our event programme includes a panel discussion with representatives of African linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities. I am moved when linguistic minority reps talk of being forced to abandon their identities. Apparently they are ashamed to be identified with their community because it is considered inferior. In order to participate and be accepted in the economic, social and political aspects of local life they choose to speak the language of the neighbouring, more dominant tribe. With respect to religious minorities, the representative indicated that in the wake of terror threats and fears, more rigorous requirements have been put in place when Muslims apply for travel documents and applicants have even been denied travel permits because they are immediately assumed to be linked to terrorists. This is in Africa!

The main objective of the event is to give shape to the idea of an African minorities forum. However participants emphasize that in order for it to succeed, it would need the true support and ownership of all those for whom it was established, going beyond the African Commission project which convened it, which will be coming to an end soon.

Following the meeting, we learn some interesting information about Swaziland, which serves to emphasize the many facets of this country. You may know that Swaziland is famous for its strict adherence to culture and tradition. So it’s certainly a very fascinating revelation to learn that there is an adult-only establishment not too far from where we are staying. It certainly sparks a lot of curiosity in some to go see for themselves and verify the existence of said establishment. Details of just how far this curiosity went shall be withheld on the principle and agreement commonly understood among the group that what happens in Swaziland, stays in Swaziland!

This article reflects the sole opinion of its author and does not engage MRG’s responsibility.