Swaziland: Tear gas for the people, luxury gifts for the king’s brides



In a country with the highest HIV rate in the world, one fourth of the population, and where six out of ten live on less than 2 USD a day, you would expect who’s in power to show some concern at least.

You would expect the Swazi leaders to try and tackle widespread poverty, since over 300,000 people depend on donor food aid and one worker out of three has no work and no social security.

And yet, the Swazi royals don’t seem to bother much.

The 44-year-old king Mswati III, who is considered Africa’s last absolute monarch, is too busy with administrating his estimated fortune of 100 million USD, which makes him the world’s 15th richest monarch, according to Forbes.

The current “week of action” protests against the regime don’t seem to bother him either, as long as he can repress any criticism or social demands.

In the very same week Swaziland commemorated its Independence Day, on 6 September, the government sent State security forces to fire teargas in the streets of the capital Mbabane.

The police beat up students who were marching peacefully and have arrested activists involved in the broad network of NGOs, human rights groups, national and international trade unions clamouring for democracy.

On the other hand, this week the king attended the Umhlanga Reed Dance, the annual rite in which he selects ayet another new bride, from among thousands of young virgins who dance topless and chant for him and for the Queen Mother.

This year there were 80,000 eligble women, according to the Swazi Observer. The selected virgin will join the other 14 wives, who the King likes to please with cars, luxury wedding gifts and shopping trips, like the one they recently made in Las Vegas.

They probably went there with the DC-9 twin-engine aircraft that Mswati III received as a gift for his birthday last April from anonymous “development partners”, as a government spokesperson called them.

The gift is worth about 48 million USD and costs more than 5,000 USD an hour to fuel.

In 2002, the King tried to use public funds to buy a jet, but he had to give up after street protests. Rumours say that the jet was a gift from an Indian-based mining company. An evident bribe, say his opponents.

“The king has granted a license for mining through a process that wasn’t transparent - he and his government are 60% shareholders in the company. That money goes to the monarchy, not the people”, Ntombenhle Khathwane from the Swaziland Diaspora Platform told ABC News..

Even worse, since the independence from Great Britain in 1973, the Swazi monarchy seems to have turned the country into an open-air prison and has adopted a series of draconian laws.

Not surprisingly, Mario Masuku, the leader of the main banned political party, PUDEMO, goes in and out of jail, while the national trade union centre TUCOSWA has also been banned.

“Traditional Swazi culture has been stolen by the Royal Elite from the people, and is used to instil fear and submission”, say the activists of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, a broad coalition of progressive organisations that campaigns for pluralism and democracy.