Swazi queens say buy-buy as nation suffers
Outrage over global shopping spree
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.