When I was a graduate student in the UK in the 1980s, I would visit a relative, Sir Brian Marwick, who lived in retirement on the Isle of Man
There was something of the true eccentric about Sir Brian. I once asked if his knighthood and other honorifics came with any paperwork, upon which he fished out several crumpled pieces of paper. "Have them if you want 'em, boy," he growled.
But there was another, more important reason why I enjoyed meeting Sir Brian.
He was regarded as the world's foremost expert on the Swazi people, an initial focus of my studies.
In 1940, while at Cambridge University, he had written the definitive treatise on the nation, and apparently spoke as many local dialects as anybody. Perhaps most importantly, he was the high commissioner who oversaw the constitutional process in the protectorate's independence from Britain in 1968.
The liberal Sir Brian had to fight a battle with unusual bedfellows. In 1962, King Sobhuza and the European Advisory Council proposed a legislative council in which both races would be separately, but equally represented, with the Swazis being appointed by the king and the Europeans by a secret ballot.
Sir Brian recognised that this would only reinforce racial divisions and hardly do much for the common citizen.
A 1963 constitutional conference in London at least allowed Swazi voting. This was undone in 1973 when King Sobhuza suspended the constitution. Since then, the absolute monarch has behaved like one. Last month, King Mswati III, Sobhuza's son, got a nice 44th birthday present - a new (second-hand) jet worth several million dollars.
Ah, well, a tiny kingdom can cramp one's style. Especially when one's subjects are getting testy about widespread economic hardship and increasing poverty, so much so that they have become dependent on financial bail-outs from South Africa. Having 13 wives, too, can prove a little claustrophobic.
In response to criticism, the king's spokesman said, even more worryingly in governance terms, that his new transport was a "gift" from private sponsors.
The royal's attitude highlights a deeper clash of values, between those who think democracy is a fundamental value and those who regard it as a figure of speech to be used to acquire power and quickly disregarded the moment their rule is threatened.
It is a clash between cult and constitution.
The regional silence on Mswati's moves has been deafening. One hopes it does not illustrate a wider view on democratic tolerance.
At the end of a lifetime of government service, Sir Brian publicly criticised the various illiberal constitutional proposals before the protectorate.
As a result, he was vilified, including by those settlers intent on entrenching their preferences and interests.
Little, it seems, has changed, apart from the race of the protagonists.
Dr Mills is unlikely now to be invited back to Swaziland.
linked page/file: <http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/2012/05/06/how-the-king-beat-the-knight