On cows and water in Swaziland

World Water Academy newsletter item: On cows and water in Swaziland

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At the end of November, I made a visit to Swaziland. From a distance, Swaziland seems to be part of South-Africa. Still, it is a separate country with its own culture. The ‘Lobola' is an example of that. The Lobola is a family feast that is still celebrated widely in the countryside of Swaziland. The drive from capital Mbabane to the family farm gave me a nice view of the land. From the capital on out, the built-up areas gave way to more trees and way fewer buildings. And especially much less water. That is the reason behind the government's decision to decentralise the water management.

Lobola is the traditional yielding of the dowry. The groom's father pays the dowry to the bride's father. The dowry to this day still consists of actual cows. And of course, this is quite the reason for a party! The festivities started in the round building where the women live. Everyone sat down on the ground. Men sat with men and women with women. The bride and groom sat on the floor as well, in the middle. The ceremony started with the eating of goat legs and maw and everyone quieted down.

The fathers started the negotiations in Swazi and were encouraged by their laughing families. After negotiations, both families walked over to the corral to see the cows. The negotiations yielded 35 cows. I have been told that is quite a large dowry. The Lobola ensures that polygamy is a costly affair that only the rich (kings and princes) can afford. The two most beautiful cows had to be sacrificed. They were apparently on the menu that evening. The gathered men performed the butchering. It was a special experience to be a guest at a ‘real' Lobola. A Lobola that was not merely a performance, set up for the tourists in ‘cultural villages'.

Back to the water
Swaziland, like the southern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, suffers from enormous droughts. We travelled on dirt roads for the last eight kilometres. It was a challenge to distinguish the road from the (dry) surroundings. Swaziland wants to decentralise the water management to be better prepared for droughts in the future and to be able to satisfy the wishes of the different users of the water. The River Basin Authorities (RBA) will, as look-alikes of the Dutch water boards, get the task to better regulate the water management in the future.

The Vechtstreken regional water authority of the Netherlands has collaborated with the water managers of Swaziland since 2009 and contributes to the decentralisation of water management and the functioning of these new organisations. This collaboration incorporates content, organisation, management and environmental management. Capacity development for the RBA boards plays a vital part in this. World Water Academy/AquaDactics is in consultation to design those trainings in 2016. Naturally, this requires deliberation and plein air.

Agnes Maenhout


Pictures by Agnes Maenhout.