Thursday, April 30, 2009


So just how much did King Mswati III of Swaziland pay for his new fleet of armoured cars for himself and his wives?

After news leaked earlier this month (April 2009) that he was buying up to 20 Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard cars, the king’s defenders have been on the attack.

Reports in the Swazi media and on the internet said the king paid E2.5 million (about 250,000 US dollars) for each of the cars.

Not true, says, the king’s men. The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reports an unnamed ‘source’ saying the purchase price was ‘far less’ than reported. The source doesn’t tell us how much the king did pay.

This lack of information doesn’t seem to trouble the Observer which goes on to report the source saying, ‘Moreover, the status of our Royalty and the pride and value we attach to the institution of the Monarchy dictates that they project the correct image that inspires confidence. The cars and their safety features befit that status. So there is really nothing wrong with the purchase.’

I love the bit about the cars befitting the status of the Swazi Royal Family. About seven in ten of Swaziland’s near one million population live in abject poverty earning less than one US dollar a day, Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and last year six in ten Swazis needed some form of international food aid to fend off hunger.

On that basis the ‘status’ of the kingdom is pretty poor and the king should probably be riding around in an oxen cart not in a fleet of cars that can resist an attack with small arms projectiles, a grenade or other explosive.

The cars also include high-end audio, an intercom, 19-inch flat screen display, DVD player, refrigerator and wood trim as standard.

The ‘source’ told the Observer that the money to buy the cars was not from the government.

‘This was not abuse of taxpayers’ money and the money was not transferred from a government ministry, but these were private Royal funds. Remember that there is a budget for Royalty in Swaziland as is the case elsewhere in the world. Even the biggest democracies have such budgets,’ the ‘source’ said.

The Observer didn’t see the contradiction in the statement. The money was from private funds, but there is a budget for royalty. In the latest budget announced in March the taxpayer was expected to fork out E130 million this year for the king and his family.

It is estimated that King Mswati has a fortune of 200 million US dollars (E2 billion), but it is not clear where this money comes from, but it is understood that the king takes a royalty (no pun intended) on a number of businesses, rents and mineral rights in Swaziland.

Now back to the cost of the cars. It is difficult to find prices for the Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard. There is a saying among dealers in expensive cars that if customers have to ask the price they can’t afford it. Therefore, prices don’t get talked about too much.

I have been able to find one dealer offering the 2009 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG for a base price of 199,825 US dollars (nearly E20 million). I don’t know if this is the model the king bought and I don’t know how much more you have to pay for extras, but the price is probably a good ball park figure and not far short of what people were saying the king paid when the news first broke.

If you want a closer look at the cars click below for a promotional video placed on YouTube.

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