Royal praise for development projects

16 May 2004

MBABANE, Swaziland — Members of the royal family and other dignitaries praised the Baha'i community at celebrations marking the 50th jubilee of the Baha'i Faith here.

"The contribution of the Baha'i Faith in Swaziland is highly commendable," said Zephania Hlatjwako, the principal secretary to Prince Gabheni, the Minister of Home Affairs.

Mr. Hlatjwako made his comment at the national library in Mbabane as he opened an exhibition depicting photographs of the early Baha'is of Swaziland.

"The Baha'is have established an educational complex in Malagwane hill [in Mbabane] which strives to provide excellent academic and moral education at pre-primary, primary, and high school levels," Mr. Hlatjwako said.

The school, founded in 1990, has more than 850 enrollments this year. Students sit their examinations under the Cambridge international examinations system.

Another example of the Baha'i contribution to education is the Tarbiyat School in Manzini. This institution is for pupils who have difficulties in regular schools. The curriculum focuses on moral education, youth enrichment, computer literacy, HIV/AIDS prevention -- and even includes a bee-keeping course. There are four other Baha'i schools in Swaziland.

The jubilee celebrations, held between 11-16 May 2004, featured presentations on the history of the Swaziland Baha'i community, which now has 24 Local Spiritual Assemblies.

The event was rich in cultural entertainment. The Swaziland Baha'i choir sang and a local Baha'i youth dance troupe gave performances inspired by Baha'i principles.

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Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani (center) with Princess Gcinaphi (left), and Chief Zwangendaba Dlamini, at the Baha'i World Centre, Haifa, Israel, 1984.

Thozi Nomvete and Crispin Pemberton-Pigott performed a song written for the occasion with lyrics about the history of the Faith in Swaziland.

Some 600 participants, including visitors, who came from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, and the United States enjoyed a traditional feast, known as "braai," which was held at the Baha'i center.

Some of the early Baha'is -- including Ben Dlamini, Chuck Ducker, and Jacob Mdluli -- told touching stories about the first Baha'is in Swaziland, Bula Mott Stewart and John and Valera Allen.

Ms. Stewart arrived in Swaziland from the United States on 11 April 1954. As the first person to introduce the Baha'i Faith to Swaziland, she received the accolade of Knight of Baha'u'llah from the then head of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi.

She spent six-weeks in that country and later moved to South Africa, where despite the oppressive racist laws, was able to give the Baha'i teachings to the local people, many of whom became Baha'is. Ms. Stewart later served the Faith in Hong Kong, and the Pacific.

On 19 April 1954, John and Valera Allen, also from the United States, arrived in the country to help to establish the Baha'i community and they too were named Knights of Baha'u'llah. Another Baha'i who settled there that year was Mrs. Allen's mother, Maude Todd Fisher.

Mr. Allen, who had run a successful car business in San Francisco, helped scores of Baha'is from other countries to settle in Swaziland. He built, and largely financed, schools and Baha'i centers in the country.

Mr. and Mrs. Allen were both elected to the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Mbabane in 1955. Mr. Allen served as the chairman of the first National Spiritual Assembly of Swaziland when it was formed in 1971.

Mrs. Allen served on the National Teaching Committee. In 1959 she was elected to the National Assembly of South and West Africa and served as secretary.

Among the first local people to become Baha'is were Isaiah Phala, a teacher, and his wife, Jemima. Others to follow were Ben Dlamini, Chris Kuhlase, Andrew Mofokeng, Maxwell Ndlovu, and some of the children of the late King Sobhuza II. One of those was Princess Gcinaphi, an ardent promoter of Baha'i principles, who went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1984.

On several occasions, Baha'is met the King, who often assured them of his support for the Baha'i community. A tribute to the late King was offered at the jubilee by Beth Allen, a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors for Africa.

Also attending from the Continental Board of Counsellors for Africa were Enos Makhele and Maina Mkandawire.

Representatives of King Mswati III and the Queen Mother were present at the jubilee festivities, a sign of the continuing good relations between Swaziland's royal family and the Baha'i community.

A message from the King was read on his behalf by his brother, Prince Phinda, a member of the Swaziland National Council.

"We have no doubt that the Baha'is have found a happy home in the kingdom of Eswatini [Swaziland] " the King's letter to the participants said. "This is evident through their active participation in and contribution to the welfare of the Swazi nation."

The King's message also praised the Baha'i community's efforts in educational and agricultural projects.

The Queen Mother sent a message in which she related some of the main teachings of the Baha'i Faith to current issues in Swazi society. Her message was delivered by a royal representative, A.K. Hlope.

"As the Swazi nation, we pledge to continue to pray for unity, peace, and harmony, and to support all organizations that promote such values, for a better world, for the benefit of all mankind," the Queen Mother's message said.

Several newspapers reported extensively on the jubilee, among them "The Nation" monthly magazine and the "Weekend Observer," which published articles about the Baha'i Faith on four weekends. Radio Swaziland broadcast several talks on the Faith, both in English and the local language, SiSwati.

Guests received a color booklet produced for the jubilee. It depicts the major events in the history of the Swaziland Baha'i community and tells of the service of the local Baha'is assisted by many traveling teachers from a variety of countries, as well as those Baha'is who settled in the country. It also refers to visits by many distinguished Baha'is, among them Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani and other Hands of the Cause, including Collis Featherstone, Leroy Ioas, Rahmatu'llah Muhajir, Adelbert Muhlschlegel, Enoch Olinga, John Robarts, and William Sears.

(Jubilee photos by Linda Blair.)