Swaziland’s big-spending absolute monarch King Mswati III is spending millions of dollars on a new personal jet and other luxuries, while many of his poor citizens rely on food aid to survive.
“The monarchy is a luxury that Swazi’s cannot afford. It is like a blood-sucking parasite that has sucked its host dry”, says Swazi activist Bheki Dlamini.
He is doing a Masters in Public Administration, is president of the banned Swaziland Youth Congress and spent nearly foru years in a small filthy cell in one of King Mswati’s prisons. The charges against him were soon dropped once his case finally went to court, but he subsequently had to flee the country because he criticized the government in a speech.
One example of the opulence of King Mswati is that he is presently buying a new jet for $13 million of public money during a drought that has seen a large part of the population receiving food aid from the UN to survive, says Dlamini.
Land is central
Swaziland is an absolute monarchy that is not unlike a medieval feudal state. In a report on the country from 2013, called “Swaziland: a failed feudal state”, American NGO Freedom House speaks of the “shocking realities of oppression, abject poverty, hunger and disease” in a country where the king has seized “private and public property for his personal benefit” while being “immune from civil suits and criminal prosecution”.
At independence land and mining rights were granted to the monarch and not the government or the people, Bheki Dlamini explains.
“Just before independence in 1968, a fund was set up to buy back land from the British colonialists that gave birth to Tibiyo Taka Ngwane [that has stakes or shares in agriculture, property, a printing company and the Swazi Observer newspaper and a host of companies] and Tisuka Taka Ngwane [a residential and commercial property developer]. But these two public companies have been taken away from the Swazi’s and tuned out to be royal purse. The land that was bought is now royal land it was never returned to the people for the development of local communities”.
The king rules supreme
Today King Mswati therefore controls over half of the land, as well as the parliament and judiciary. He also has a personal fortune of $100-200 million, receives over $30 million a year from the taxpayers, and generally leads a playboy lifestyle with his umpteen wives and many palaces.
He is a shareholder of many of Swaziland’s companies, from which he receives a considerable percentage of the profit. Ordinary citizens, on the other hand, have no security of tenure in a country where 75 percent depend on subsistence farming for their survival.
Many are therefore evicted, whenever the king or his chiefs want to use the land for vanity projects such as Mswati’s new international airport. Control of the land and economy is therefore at the centre of the struggle that rural people face on a daily basis, says Bheki Dlamini, who himself comes from the rural areas.
Political and economic control
Apart from agriculture, much of Swaziland’s use of land and wealth comes from the utilization of other natural resources such a sugar, coal, gold and iron ore.
“25 percent of everything from the mines goes to the Monarchy. But for what? These huge resources could be best utilised under the national treasury. What is the local community benefiting in Maloma, where coal is mined? What did the community benefit in Ngwenya where Iron Ore was being mined? What is the country benefiting in the recently opened Lufafa Gold mine? Nothing except degradation of the environment and exploitation of workers. All this is meant to soothe the insatiable appetite of a greedy monarchy”.
Bheki Dlamini believes that the resources that are currently being looted by the monarchy could go a long way in eradicating poverty and lack of development in Swaziland. But for this to happen, Swazis must gain control over both the political and economic system.
“The solution to economic emancipation lies with us Swazis, but the struggle for multiparty democracy must never be about voting rights only. The real struggle is on changing the unequal distribution of our resources”, Bheki Dlamini concludes.
[‘Swaziland – Africa’s Last Monarchy’ is a documentary about Bheki Dlamini, made by award-winning Danish investigative journalist Tom Heinemann. Watch the film here.]
*Peter Kenworthy is a journalist with Afrika Kontakt, a Danish organisation.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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