‘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

‘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.”


What makes dogs so special? Science says love

Updated 20 February 2020

What makes dogs so special? Science says love

  • Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts
  • Although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect

WASHINGTON: The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.
But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.
Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in “Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”
The animal psychologist, 59, began studying dogs in the early 2000s, and, like his peers, believed that to ascribe complex emotions to them was to commit the sin of anthropomorphism — until he was swayed by a body evidence that was growing too big to ignore.
“I think there comes a point when it’s worth being skeptical of your skepticism,” the Englishman said.
Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts.
Titles like “The Genius of Dogs” by Brian Hare have advanced the idea that dogs have an innate and exceptional intelligence.
Wynne, however plays spoilsport, arguing that Fido is just not that brilliant.
Pigeons can identify different kinds of objects in 2D images; dolphins have shown they understand grammar; honeybees signal the location of food sources to each other through dance; all feats that no dogs have ever been known to accomplish.
Even wolves, dogs’ ancestor species known for their ferocity and lack of interest in people, have shown the ability to follow human cues — including, in a recent Swedish study, by playing fetch.
Wynne proposes a paradigm shift, synthesizing cross-disciplinary research to posit that it is dogs’ “hypersociability” or “extreme gregariousness” that sets them apart.
One of the most striking advances comes from studies regarding oxytocin, a brain chemical that cements emotional bonds between people, but which is, according to new evidence, also responsible for interspecies relationships between dogs and humans.
Recent research led by Takefumi Kikusui at Japan’s Azabu University has shown that levels of the chemical spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each other’s eyes, mirroring an effect observed between mothers and babies.
In genetics, UCLA geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt made a surprising discovery in 2009: Dogs have a mutation in the gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans — a condition characterized by intellectual limitations and exceptional gregariousness.
“The essential thing about dogs, as for people with Williams syndrome, is a desire to form close connections, to have warm personal relationships — to love and be loved,” writes Wynne.
Numerous insights have also been gleaned through new behavior tests — many devised by Wynne himself and easy to replicate at home with the help of treats and cups.
One involved researchers using a rope to pull open the front door of a dog’s home and placing a bowl of food at an equal distance to its owner, finding that the animals overwhelmingly went to their human first.
Magnetic resonance imaging has drilled down on the neuroscience, showing that dogs’ brains respond to praise as much or even more than food.
But although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect.
Nor is the love affair exclusive to humans: A farmer who raised pups among a penguin colony on a tiny Australian island was able to save the birds from marauding foxes, in an experiment that was the basis for a 2015 film.
For Wynne, the next frontiers of dog science may come through genetics, which will help unravel the mysterious process by which domestication took place at least 14,000 years ago.
Wynne is an advocate for the trash heap theory, which holds that the precursors to ancient dogs congregated around human dumping grounds, slowly ingratiating themselves with people before the enduring partnership we know today was established through joint hunting expeditions.
It’s far less romantic than the popular notion of hunters who captured wolf pups and then trained them, which Wynne derides as a “completely unsupportable point of view” given the ferocity of adult wolves who would turn on their human counterparts.
New advances in the sequencing of ancient DNA will allow scientists to discover when the crucial mutation to the gene that controls Williams syndrome occurred.
Wynne guesses this happened 8,000 — 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, when humans began regularly hunting with dogs.
What makes these findings important, beyond advancing science, is their implications for dogs’ welfare, he argues.
That means rejecting brutal, pain-based training methods like choke collars based on debunked understandings of “dominance” popularized by celebrity trainers who demand dog owners become “pack leaders.”
“All your dog wants is for you to show them the way,” says Wynne, through compassionate leadership and positive reinforcement.
It also means carving out time to meet their social needs instead of leaving them isolated for most of the day.
“Our dogs give us so much, and in return they don’t ask for much,” he says.
“You don’t need to be buying all these fancy expensive toys and treats and goodness knows what that are available.
“They just need our company; they need to be with people.”