By Tania Page in Africa
We were in Swaziland unofficially because we had been warned by other journalists and our contacts in the country that the government can be unfriendly to foreign journalists.
This put the team a little on-edge. We hoped nobody would ask too many questions.
We met Mario Masuku, a prominent opposition leader whose party has been banned by the country’s absolute ruler, King Mswati, at a secret location. Afterwards, cameraman Chris and producer Gladys left me at our hotel while they drove him to another safe location.
We were all nervous after encountering several police roadblocks during the day, so when a sharp knock came on the door and Chris urgently told me to pack my bags as we had to leave immediately, my head (and heart) went into overdrive. Then came Gladys’ unmistakable giggle - the best pranks are always the most believable.
We were not laughing quite so hard two days later when we met one of the king’s advisors. He rules with emergency powers the opposition leader we had met vehemently opposes.
But Prince Mangaliso Logcogco was sceptical about protests this year calling for the king to relinquish some of his powers, suggesting they were fuelled by social media and exaggerated in the outside world.
The king had effectively turned Swaziland into a welfare state, he said. “What are you going to eat?” if there is democracy he wondered. “You’ll be a hungry slave”.
While protests in Swaziland have been large, they have hardly been on the scale of those seen during theArab Spring.
Masuku, who spent four years in prison accused of sedition and terrorism believes that is only because nearly a whole generation under the age of 40 has been depoliticised, believing they have no say in the political process.
Still, he remains convinced change in Swaziland is possible in his lifetime.
But while monarchies elsewhere in the world have changed with the times, it does not appear as if King Mswati is prepared to take a back seat just yet.