Friday, December 11, 2009


What would happen to a journalist, who sat King Mswati III of Swaziland down in a chair, had the television cameras rolling and then asked him, ‘Are you a dictator?’

Well, Tara Brown of the 60 Minutes programme on Australian’s Nine network did just that and lived to tell the tale.

Brown got an exclusive interview with King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and just asked the question.

Parts of the interview went like this:

TARA BROWN: Some of the criticism about you is that you are running the country into the ground.

KING MSWATI III: That's right.

TARA BROWN: And that you are one of the 10 worst dictators in the world.

KING MSWATI III: Well, I was surprised when I saw that and I even asked myself, "What is a dictator in this world?" I don't know if people know the definition of a dictator.

TARA BROWN: So you are not a dictator?

KING MSWATI III: I don't consider myself to be a dictator, never at all.


TARA BROWN: One big criticism is that you are a big spender despite the poverty of your people. Is that true?

KING MSWATI III: They don't know what they are talking about. They haven't got that information. Speculation, that's what they do, they speculate, saying I'm a big spender.

TARA BROWN: Are you a big spender?

KING MSWATI III: I am not a big spender. It's not true.


TARA BROWN: Having met the most important man in the land, I'm now invited to meet the most important woman, not any of the king's wives, they are off-limit, but the king's mother — the Queen mother.

Hello, Your Majesty, it's very nice to meet you.

My translator is the urbane Sihle Dlamini, who, when in the presence of the King and the Queen Mother, is, as you can see, on his knees.

SIHLE DLAMINI: It's a sign of respect.

TARA BROWN: But you are a professional man, you are an adult. Do you sometimes feel like you are not being shown respect?

SIHLE DLAMINI: No, it's a part of us. If I don't kneel, I feel I'm very disrespectful.


TARA BROWN: Swaziland is a kingdom of just over 1 million people. It's a tiny pocket, a quarter the size of Tasmania, tucked between South Africa and Mozambique. With little industry, tourism is the great hope. This rhinoceros breeding program is a pet project of the king's, but it's His Majesty's personal life and his country's practice of polygamy that raises eyebrows and opposition. Polygamy is something we find very difficult to understand in our culture.

KING MSWATI III: The society, at the moment they feel that it is important to continue practising that.

TARA BROWN: And why is that?

KING MSWATI III: Well, you have to ask the society, so I don't know.

TARA BROWN: But you are part of the society, you are the leader of Swaziland.

KING MSWATI III: Yes, that's right.

TARA BROWN: You don't know why it's a good idea?

KING MSWATI III: I have to really ask them myself that why, why they think it's such a good idea.

TARA BROWN: You are not supposed to talk to the King about these sorts of things, but we believe he has 12 wives and one fiancée, still a long way off his father's tally of 70 or so wives, and word is already King Mswati has almost 30 royal children. I understand that protocol stops me from asking you how many wives you have.


TARA BROWN: But can I ask you how many wives you would like to have?

KING MSWATI III: Well, even then, still, protocol would not allow us to say how many we would like to have.

TARA BROWN: And I know I cannot ask you how many children you have, but can I ask you how many children you would like to have?

KING MSWATI III: I think I would like to have, you know, a good number.

TARA BROWN: What is a good number?

KING MSWATI III: It's just a very good number. That's what I would like to have.


TARA BROWN: Does the King get much criticism in Swaziland?

KING MSWATI III: I don't know.

Maybe it’s not the most hard-hitting of interviews, but at least she asked the questions. This interview was shown in Australia and has been available across the world and for many viewers it would be the first time they had even heard of Swaziland. Even though the interview was a bit soft, I can’t help feeling that King Mswati hanged himself on his own rope a little bit. He is the leader of Swaziland: would you follow him into the sound of gunfire?

To see the full interview which was first broadcast in October 2006, click below.

For a full transcript of the interview, click here.

The King and I: King Mswati of Swaziland
The King and I: King Mswati of Swaziland

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