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Ogunleye, Foluke (ed.

) (2005) Theatre in Swaziland: The Past, the Present

and the Future. Kwaluseni, Swaziland: Department of African Languages
and Literature, University of Swaziland.



Dieter Aab
Director, Swaziland Theatre Technical Services

Performing Arts in Swaziland is clearly divided into 2 streams:


a) These include Sibhaca, Ummiso, etc. Being cultural, this form fulfilled
more than just entertainment need but a ritual one too. This form is
marked by a very strong element of audience participation. This
includes ululating, clapping, singing, dancing.

b) Traditional Music as entertainment: e.g., minstrels on Makhoyane.

c) Diviners/Tangoma: These would use dramatic effect to enhance

diagnosis of patients.

i) It was driven by a strong need for entertainment.
ii) It depended on a strong literary tradition

• performed by the expatriates who were in Swaziland on a temporary basis

and found themselves in need of a pastime or as a means of coping with
• The performances were not fully integrated into the Swazi environment
because they were depicting the European way of life. It was totally
divorced from its environment.
• regular performances of school textbooks being of great educational
• Performances had to be paid for
• Restricted mostly to the expatriate population.
• Swazis were not encouraged to attend performances nor did they see the
need to spend money on “mhlungu’s” (white man’s) entertainment.
• Led to the formation of Swaziland Theatre Club, which was devoted to the
performing arts and owns the only dedicated performing arts venue in
• This theatre, seating about 175 people was designed in the early 1960s by
an architect, Mr. Francis Green, and built by club members from simple
materials such as gumploes and asbestos sheeting.
• Over the years, improvements and additions were made
• Some schools had drama groups or school performances.
• Notably, drama activity at this level has only survived at Waterford
Kamhlaba, where drama forms part of the IB course.
• School performances now are generally limited to dancing and miming to
a recorded backing track.
• Another manifestation: popular performances given by the various drama
groups springing up in different parts of the country.
• This has achieved the sensitization and enlightenment of the nation on
various social issues, such as HIV/ AIDS awareness, drug abuse, child
abuse, politics and many other social issues.
• As a regulatory and developmental measure a governing body, the
Association of Swaziland Theatre Groups (ASTG) was established to
provide some co-ordination between the indigenous drama groups.
• It is affiliated to the Swaziland National Council for Arts and Culture
• Through these channels the drama groups are now able to access some
funding to run their affairs.

Modern Literary Drama in Swaziland

• One of the main reasons why drama in Swaziland remains unknown to the
rest of the world is due to the fact that most of the plays are written and
published in siSwati.
• Most of the plays are designed to be read in schools.
• One major disadvantage is that they have not been subjected to serious
critical attention, which would encourage development.
• Plays written in English language that are read in Swazi schools are those
written by foreign writers like W. Shakespeare, W. Soyinka, A. Fugard etc.
• One Swazi playwright that has published in English language is Zodwa
• She lectures in South Africa. Living and working outside Swaziland has
probably opened her eyes to the possibilities of making her works
available to a more globalized audience.
• Her collection of published plays include Of Heroes and Men, The Paper
Bride and Shadows.
• Other plays in English Language have emanated from higher institutions
of learning in Swaziland, but remain unpublished.
• They however form part of the dramatic treasures of Swaziland.

Dr. C. Tsabedze, Ph.D.

Department of English Language and Literature
University of Swaziland

• Swazi drama and theatre emerged rather belatedly in the history of
siSwati literature. Initially siSwati writers concentrated on prose writing in
the form of short stories, novellas and novels. These dominated the
siSwati literary scene for quite sometime, that is, from the time Swaziland
gained her independence in 1968. This is the time when for the first time,
siSwati became a written language and was introduced to the school
system to replace Zulu.
• It was only in the late 1980’s that siSwati writers began to turn to drama
and poetry, and a number of drama books have been produced ever

Themes in the Published Plays
• Ranging from culture and tradition, culture conflict, modern living and
behavior as well as topical issues such as HIV/ AIDS, violence against
vulnerable groupings and child dumping.
• Most criticize traditional practices such as forced marriages,
• and the use of traditional medicine for purposes of witchcraft.
• Individuals going to the city and experiencing moral degradation.
• The issue of culture conflict.
• conflict between western religion and tradition
• The practice of wife inheritance.
• How women suffer as a result of their inability to give birth to sons.

Themes of the Unpublished Plays

• Plays that final year students of Theatre Arts in the English Department
have written.
• Cover themes that are similar to those explored by the published
works, but there is an attempt to accommodate socio-economic and
political issues.
• the plight of widows in a society
• revolt against tradition
• Political situation.
• The gap between the rich and the poor in the community.
• multinational and local business exploiting workers
• Gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the corporate world.
• Focus on campus life.
• Love relations and their attendant problems such as cheating and
double crossing.
• baby dumping

• students plays are more insightful in terms of what is actually wrong
with some practices within the society.
• These young people are no longer complacent - they ask
• why is it done this way, what can be done to stop this behaviour,
this needs to be interrogated.
• This therefore marks a divergence from those drama texts that are
• This may be due to the fact that these students are young and they
look at issues from a fresh perspective.
• It may also be due to the fact that that they are operating within the
academic sphere where there is no fear of sanctions or