Thursday, October 8, 2009


What on earth has happened to the critical faculties of journalists in Swaziland?

Just as news comes that Swaziland faces a cut in its national budget revenues of about 50 percent (because of dwindling customs revenues) the media are full of stories about a grand plan to spend E1.5bn (about 200 million US dollars) on a ‘facelift’ for the Swazi capital city Mbabane.

That E1.5bn will buy a civic centre and a shopping mall. Needless to say these aren’t just any old plans, they are, according to Roux Property Development, one of the South African companies behind the scheme, for a ‘fully fledged state of the art 21st Century Civic Centre befitting a country’s capital city’.

Also needless to say, King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has his fingerprints all over the deal.

According to the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, the developers first approached the king with the plan and (presumably) once he gave it the nod it was easy to get the Mbabane council and government on side.

There was no transparency in the awarding of the contract which is expected to start in June 2010 and take three years to build.

Who says Swaziland needs another shopping mall, which according to the Swazi Observer, the paper in effect owned by the king, will be the tallest building in the capital?

We are being asked to swallow the line that the new development would ‘stimulate economic growth and this would increase job opportunities in the city’. The Observer says with the new building, Mbabane would be able to host a number of activities such as national games, business meetings, music and arts festivals.

And where is the E1.5bn coming from? Remember the Swazi Government has already committed itself to spending another E1.5bn by next June to complete the Sikhuphe international airport.

And have we already forgotten ‘Swazi City’ with its 250 shops with four floors of luxurious shopping experience; Royal Villas which will offer up to 6-Star accommodation facilities suitable for all type of guests; a 28-Floor Hotel which will have 350 guest suites, world-class restaurants, three swimming areas and in-door sporting facilities, a health spa and a casino.

This plan was announced only this April by King Mswati. He said the multi-million emalangeni cost (nobody seems to have given a definite price) would be met by international finance.

At the same time the king said there would be built a new Science and Technology Park; a hi-technology industrial Site and the Matsapha Industrial Site would be expanded. By coincidence he announced this work would also take three years to complete.

Can we please get a sense of reality: there is no money in Swaziland to support these kinds of developments. Seventy per cent of the kingdom’s one million population lives in abject poverty, earning less than one US dollar a day. Receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) will collapse this year and will never again reach the levels they once did. Swaziland is heading for a major collapse in its economy.

It’s about time someone told the truth. As things stand I don’t think Swaziland’s journalists are up to that task.

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