‘More African’: eSwatini adapts to contentious name change

An advertisement from the recently renamed Kingdom of eSwatini is posted on a local newspaper in Lobamba. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2018
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‘More African’: eSwatini adapts to contentious name change

  • In April, King Mswati III — one of the world’s last absolute rulers — announced that Swaziland would now be known as eSwatini (‘land of the Swazis’)
  • But the king’s claim that eSwatini was Swaziland’s old ‘authentic’ name is fiercely disputed

MBABANE, eSwatini: At the main campus entrance, a large concrete sign welcomes students and visitors to “The University of...” followed by a blank space.
After Swaziland changed its name earlier this year to eSwatini, the nine letters spelling out the old name of the country were removed from the university sign, and new letters have not yet arrived.
“We are still waiting,” said a security guard at the gate.
On the other side of the road, Banele Syabonga, 25, contemplated his country’s sudden change of name in April, which took many citizens by surprise.
“I like the new name — it is more African,” Syabonga, who is unemployed, said, standing outside Lucky’s Hair Cut shop, a tin shack in Manzini, the second city of what is now known as eSwatini.
“Swaziland was the British name. Now we have our own,” he said, addressing one of the contentious debates about the new title.
In April, King Mswati III — one of the world’s last absolute rulers — marked 50 years since his country’s independence from British colonial rule by announcing that it would now be known as eSwatini (“land of the Swazis”).
The monarch’s decision, taken without warning or consultation, revealed much about his autocratic rule and his country’s history — as well as posing a logistical challenge as the name change came into immediate effect.
Six weeks after the king’s pronouncement, the country’s representative informed the United Nations headquarters in New York, and the UN soon adopted the new nomenclature.
Regional bodies, including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), have also quickly changed to eSwatini — though they sometimes swap between names in the same statement.
The adjustment has taken some getting used to inside eSwatini, a landlocked nation of just 1.3 million residents between South Africa and Mozambique.
Senior Swazi officials speaking to AFP during a visit last week repeatedly had to stop and correct themselves mid-sentence.
It is “Swaziland” on the banknotes, but the central bank now uses “eSwatini,” while police stations are gradually changing their signs.
Unlike many countries, such as Zimbabwe — called Southern Rhodesia under British rule — Swaziland did not change its name when it became independent in 1968.
“African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonized,” the king said when he announced the change, having previously complained that Swaziland was often confused with Switzerland.
But the king’s claim that eSwatini was Swaziland’s old “authentic” name is fiercely disputed.
“There is disagreement over the pre-colonial name — many say it was actually ‘Ngwane’,” Thulani Maseko, an activist and lawyer who is challenging the name change in court, said in the capital Mbabane.
Ngwane was an ancient name for the Swazi people who settled in the south of the country under King Ngwane III, who ruled in the 18th century.
Swaziland takes its name from King Mswati II, who ruled between 1840 and 1868. The area came under joint British and Boer rule in 1894 before becoming a British territory in 1907.
“The name of your country is your identity, so it should not be changed by just one person issuing a royal command,” Maseko said.
“It tells you that the king does not consult with the people when he makes fundamental decisions.”
Maseko spent 15 months in jail in 2014-15 for contempt of court after writing about lack of judicial independence, and he accepts that his legal battle over his country’s name faces tough odds.
But he wants to take a stand against the king’s all-encompassing authority.
The country held elections last month in a vote that was dismissed as a farce by critics because the constitution grants the king complete control over parliament and all branches of the state.
The country is impoverished — in sharp contrast to the king’s lavish lifestyle — and the name change is estimated to cost the government up to $6 million.
Percy Simelane, the government spokesman, declined to comment to AFP, saying the court case made the matter sub-judice.
The name “eSwatini” did not come out of the blue. It is used in the local siSwati language and has appeared for years as the country’s sub-title on national passports.
But for souvenir seller Thoko Nkambule, 50, it has been an unwelcome disruption to business.
She offers beaded necklaces, leather bracelets and carved wooden fridge magnets all skillfully spelling out “Swaziland” or now increasingly “eSwatini.”
“We are changing step by step,” she said. “Some buyers want the old name, some want the new name. Personally, I prefer the old one.”


Japan’s ‘Uncle Olympics’ fan dies just short of 2020 Games

Naotoshi Yamada, above, was planning to attend the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. (Reuters/File)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Japan’s ‘Uncle Olympics’ fan dies just short of 2020 Games

  • The man attended all summer games since 1964
  • He often wore a golden hat when he attended the games

TOKYO: A Japanese Olympic mega-fan who attended every summer games since Tokyo in 1964 has died, just over a year before his home city was to host its second Olympics.
Tokyo businessman Naotoshi Yamada, 92, who died on March 9 from heart failure, was a national celebrity in his own right with his repeated, gleeful appearances in Olympic stands.
“Uncle Olympics,” as he came to be known, was an omnipresent fixture for Japanese TV watchers cheering on the Japan team at the “Greatest Show On Earth.”
Often sporting a gold top hat, kimono, and a beaming smile, Yamada also became a darling of the international media.
“After 92 years of his life spent cheering, Naotoshi Yamada, international Olympic cheerleader, was called to eternal rest on March 9, 2019,” said his web site, managed by a firm he founded.
Born in 1926, Yamada built a successful wire rope manufacturing business, and also expanded his portfolio to include the hotel and real estate sectors.
But away from work, his passion was for sport, particularly the Olympics.
He did not miss a summer games since 1964, taking in Mexico City, Munich, Montreal, Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro.
For good measure, he also attended the winter games when it rolled into Nagano in 1998, and told local media of his strong desire to attend the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Yamada saw the first Tokyo Olympics when he was 38.
But his passion was truly ignited during the 1968 Mexico City Games, according to his website.
He donned a kimono and a sombrero hat and loudly cheered for a Mexican 5000-meter runner, mistaking him for a Japanese athlete.
Local spectators embraced the scene and loudly cheered for Japanese athletes in return, leading to an electrifying show of support that went beyond nationality, his website said.
“He saw the awesome power of cheering, and was mesmerised by it ever since,” it said.