Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in the world and one of the few African countries that has never faced a civil war. This portrait of a nation in transition juxtaposes the opulent ... See full summary »

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His Majesty King Mswati III ...
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Her Royal Highness Princess Sikhanyiso ...
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Her Majesty Queen LaMbikiza ...
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Mphandhlana Shongwe ...
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Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in the world and one of the few African countries that has never faced a civil war. This portrait of a nation in transition juxtaposes the opulent life of the royal family to the bare subsistence of Swazi citizens who are poised to fight for a better life. Written by Michael Skolnik

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13 April 2007 (USA)  »

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$4,237 (USA) (25 April 2008)

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$8,471 (USA) (20 June 2008)
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A Revolution Waiting to Happen
10 January 2008 | by (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

Michael Skolnik has made a solid (and understated) documentary about the king of Swaziland and his ultra-opulent lifestyle -- a fleet of limousines, a luxury personal jet, his own private army, about $9 billion in offshore accounts, and a sumptuous personal palace for himself and his 13 wives (he was apparently building separate palaces for 11 of his wives while this film was being made).

The king also has a teen-age daughter who speaks with an American accent, attends college in California, and (remarkably) says about Swaziland's culture: 'without the king, there is no culture.' This gives the film its title, but it's also an ominous play on words for the probable fate of her father. The comment pompously suggests that the people of Swaziland had little, if anything, to do with the development of their own culture. It is reminiscent of Louis XIV's alleged remark 'L'etat, c'est moi' ('I am the state').

King Mswati III rules with supreme authority, although Swaziland nominally has a prime minister, cabinet and a legislative body -- all appointed by the king himself and all quartered behind closely guarded walls.

In the midst of all the king's luxury, the great majority of Swazis live in misery and near-starvation. The country (pop. 1.8 million) has the world's highest HIV/AIDS rate (about 46 per cent) and the lowest life-expectancy (about 31 years). People must depend on the World Food Programme for survival.

Revolutions foment inevitably in these conditions ('Freedom in Our Lifetime' is prominently stencilled on the back of one of the rebel leader's t-shirts). The viewer is not surprised to hear these sentiments repeated many times, a stark contrast to the king and his many courtiers, who are so detached from their country's realities that they're not sure what all the fuss is about.

The king pays lip service to the terrible conditions in his country, but he has had 20 years in which to do something about it. He hasn't, and he doesn't, and he will surely go the way of other supreme rulers who did not heed that famous writing on the wall. This film was made only a year ago (in early 2007), so watch for future reports from Swaziland.


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