LaZwide, campaigning in the absolute monarchy of Eswatini for this Friday elections

The king has little patience for dissent, but Nomalungelo Simelane, also known as LaZwide, is not afraid of a challenge. An opponent and candidate for the Eswatini parliamentary elections, she raises her fist for democracy at campaign rallies, a rare occurrence in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
In this small, hilly country, landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, King Mswati III appoints the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the judges, and the acts of Parliament only have the force of law if they have his seal of approval. The election campaign was limited to two weeks. In the streets, there were few posters, no long evening debates on television and virtually no rallies in a country where political parties have been banned for 50 years.
Candidates for the 59 parliamentary seats up for election on Friday are running without party labels and are mostly loyal to the King. “We don’t have the right to be free, there is no freedom of expression. And if you speak this truth, you end up in exile or in prison”, declared LaZwide, before speaking in front of a few hundred supporters on Wednesday, in a muddy soccer stadium in Siphofaneni, a small town some 80 km from the capital Mbabane.
Wearing heavy boots in the light rain and her face enhanced by a light shade of lipstick, the 44-year-old former gospel singer entered politics in a way by marriage: elected for the first time as a deputy in by-elections in 2022, she took the seat of her pro-democrat husband, pursued by the regime and forced into exile. “I’m not a politician,” she admits modestly. “But I know how to make myself heard around here.