Swazi queens say buy-buy as na­tion suf­fers

Out­rage over global shop­ping spree

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - WEEK­END AR­GUS RE­PORTER

WIVES of King Mswati III of Swazi­land seem to be tak­ing a leaf out of Zim­bab­wean first lady Grace Mu­gabe’s books by go­ing on a globe-trot­ting and eye-wa­ter­ing $6 mil­lion (R46m) shop­ping spree.

Five of the king’s 13 wives are some­where be­tween France, Italy, Tai­wan, the US and Dubai, each with five to eight aides and sev­eral chil­dren.

The trip comes a year af­ter a sim­i­lar trip by eight of his wives prompted 1 500 mostly HIV-pos­i­tive Swazi women to take to the streets in an un­prece­dented protest.

They ques­tioned how money could be spent on a shop­ping trip when Swazi­land – a coun­try with the world’s high­est HIV preva­lence rate – faced a short­ages of medicines in­clud­ing Aids-fight­ing drugs.

Ac­cord­ing to Lucky Lukhele, na­tional spokesman of the South Africa-based Swazi­land Sol­i­dar­ity Net­work (SSN), sources near the royal fam­ily have con­firmed the five wives left on a char­tered flight with their en­tourages.

“That $6m is just pocket money. It does not cover ho­tel costs or that of the char­tered plane.”

The women are be­lieved to have left last week and are sup­posed to be away for two weeks.

SSN mem­bers pick­eted in front of the Swazi con­sulate in Joburg yes­ter­day and handed over a mem­o­ran­dum high­light­ing their con­cerns.

“How can this hap­pen when 70 per­cent of the coun­try lives be­low the poverty line and re­lies on food aid?” Lukhele said.

Forbes Rich List has es­ti­mated Mswati’s per­sonal wealth at more than $200m.

“He has never worked. That money was looted from tax pay­ers,” said Lukhele.

Mswati has a his­tory of threat­en­ing those who have tried to ex­pose his heavy spending. In March 2007, he threat­ened to close down the Times group af­ter the Times Sun­day re­pro­duced a news agency re­port stat­ing there was in­ter­na­tional con­cer n about the “pri­vate spending of au­thori- tar­ian King Mswati III and his large royal fam­ily”.

Ear­lier this year he threat­ened the group of news­pa­pers with sanc­tions, in­clud­ing pos­si­ble clo­sure, af­ter it re­ported Mswati had bought up to 20 topof-the range ar­moured Mercedes-Benz cars.

Ac­cord­ing to Swazi jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor Richard Rooney, me­dia had been si­lenced from re­port­ing on the shop­ping trip.

“Sources usu­ally re­garded as re­li­able in Swazi­land say that Barn­abas Dlamini, the il­le­gally ap­pointed prime min­is­ter of Swazi­land, called in the ed­i­tors of the na­tional press and told them that the world­wide re­ac­tion to the last trip caused ir­repara­ble harm to the im­age of the king abroad.”

Mswati ap­par­ently or­dered the me­dia to not pub­lish any­thing about the trip or the pa­pers would be forced to close.

“Nearly two-thirds of the in­come of the Swazi gov­ern­ment comes from SACU (Souther n Africa Cus­toms Union) re­ceipts, which come from the South African gov­ern­ment. In ef­fect this means that South African tax­pay­ers are pay­ing for the queens’ shop­ping trip.

“In the same vein, the Euro­pean Union plans to do­nate more than € 63m to the Swazi gov­ern­ment and the US gov­ern­ment more than $200m to Swazi­land each year.”

The king’s spokesman Qethuka Dlamini was not avail­able for com­ment yes­ter­day.

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