Sunday, January 30, 2011


In Swaziland, there’s one rule for the pals of King Mswati III, and another rule for everyone else.

This is confirmed by the case of Jim Gama, the ‘traditional prime minister’ of Swaziland, who has received financial support ‘from the King’ to travel to South Africa for medical treatment after he suffered a stroke.

Meanwhile, ordinary Swazi people, including cancer sufferers, have been denied treatment in South African hospitals because the Swazi Government won’t pay its bills.

Jim Gama first. He is the ‘traditional’ prime minister of Swaziland and that makes him more important than Barnabas Dlamini, the ‘real’ prime minister. It also makes Gama one of King Mswati’s most important supporters. In Swaziland, when there is a dispute over the two, cultural and traditional law trumps constitutional law. When Gama pronounces on a matter, he speaks with more authority than Barnabas Dlamini.

Gama has been sick since suffering a stroke in 2009 and Swaziland’s appalling health service hasn’t been able to treat him. So, Gama has been sent off to Johannesburg, South Africa, for treatment. He left Swaziland on Friday (28 January 2011) in a Ministry of Health ambulance, accompanied by a senior nurse.

The Weekend Observer, a newspaper in effect owned and edited by King Mswati, reported that over the past two years the King has seen to it that ‘Gama receives the best treatment from premier hospitals in the country [Swaziland] and in South Africa to heal him of the effects of a stroke he suffered’.

The newspaper said ‘the King’ also pays ‘a substantial allowance’ to Gama’s wife who looks after him. It is not clear if this money comes out of the King’s own pocket (he has a personal fortune estimated by Forbes in 2009 to be $US200 million), as the newspaper also reported that assistance came from a health fund administered by the King’s Office and another at Tibiyo TakaNgwane (which is the conglomerate of businesses that the King owns ‘on behalf of the nation’).

Bhekie Dlamini, Chief Officer in the King’s Office, told the newspaper that the King was a caring father and leader. Dlamini said there were many people from all backgrounds who had received assistance from him, be it in education, health or other challenges they may face.

‘It is just that we do not go to the roof top to pronounce to the world what the King has done to help his people,’ Dlamini said.

So, Gama, the King’s pal is well taken care of. What about the rest of the King’s subjects, seven in ten of whom live in abject poverty, earning less than one US dollar a day?

Because Swaziland’s health service is so bad, the Swazi Government administers a fund called Phalala, which allows sick Swazis to travel to hospital in South Africa for treatment, which the Government then pays for.

But, of course, this is the Swazi Government we’re talking about here, and the bills don’t get paid, so sick people get turned away at the door when they arrive at hospital.

It happens all the time. Earlier this month (January 2011), it was revealed that cancer sufferers who needed chemotherapy treatment were ‘blacklisted’ by hospitals in South Africa because the government hadn’t paid bills for treatment given to previous patients. It was reported that one hospital threatened to recover the outstanding monies from individual patients.

One estimate was that bills amount to E100,000 ($US14,000) per patient.

Some of the patients have been receiving calls allegedly from debt collectors hired by some of the doctors to track them down.

As recently as Friday (28 January 2011), it was reported that a number of patients who were transferred to different hospitals in South Africa had been turned back because government had not settled outstanding payments.

The hospitals would not do some medical procedures or admit any of the patients from Swaziland until government paid its bills.

The non-payments are not connected to the present meltdown of the Swaziland economy: the Swazi Government has a long history of incompetence in handling the Phalala fund and there have been many reports of corrupt misuse of monies.

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