Wednesday, February 16, 2011


On Friday (18 February 2011) Majozie Sithole, Swaziland’s Finance Minister, will deliver a budget at which he has already announced he will cut a further 20 percent of public spending cuts.

Public service jobs will be cut and inflation is expected to rise. Economic growth will remain unchanged in the coming year.

Also planned is a new Value Added Tax and a 10 percent cut in support for state-owned companies.

Sithole said Swaziland would have a ‘credibility’ problem if these things did not happen.

So, there will be cuts all round and every poor Swazi in the kingdom will suffer. But what about King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch and his Royal Family? How much will their budgets be cut?

Swaziland will indeed have a ‘credibility’ problem if in these dire times the Royal Family expenditure isn’t cut to the bone. Everything must be cut except for the bare essentials that allow the king to perform ceremonial duties. The rest –his lavish lifestyle – must go.

Ordinary Swazi don’t know how much the King and his family cost them each year – it’s a carefully guarded secret.

But in December 2009, I wrote the following article that put together some of the pieces of information that we do know. As we head towards Friday’s budget, it is well worth looking at it again.

Monday, 7 December 2009


With the call from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Swaziland to cut back on public expenditure to stop the kingdom from going broke ringing in our ears, now is a good time to look at the cost of the Swazi Royal Family to the taxpayer.

It is notoriously difficult to get at the truth of the cost of King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and his huge and increasing extended family, but if we put together facts that we do know, it becomes clear that the Royal Family is a huge drain on the Swazi national budget.

Recently some Swaziland politicians called for an inquiry into the amount of money the Royal Family has spent this year on trips abroad this year.

They want the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on the Swazi Royal Family on trips abroad cut back.

Already the family of King Mswati III, has spent E41 million (4.6 million US dollars) in four months.

The Swazi Government headed by Barnabas Dlamini, who was illegally appointed as Prime Minister by King Mswati, has budgeted E95 million for royal family trips abroad for the present financial year. Now, the Royals have asked for more cash.

Members of the Swaziland Finance Committee demanded to know if the government is monitoring the number of Royals going abroad at the taxpayers’ expense and they want the amount spent on them reduced.

This is only a drop in the ocean of spending undertaken outside the borders of Swaziland by the Royal Family.

In August 2009 the world (but not people in Swaziland) learned that five of King Mswati’s wives (he is said to have 13 but nobody knows for sure since this is information that his Swazi subjects are not allowed to have) went on a worldwide shopping spree costing at least 6 million US dollars.

As I reported at the time, the media in Swaziland were warned not to report on the trip because it would harm the king’s reputation. Media houses were told they would face sanctions, including possible closure, if word got out.

When the wives went on a similar trip in August 2008 it caused an outcry and ordinary Swazi women took to the streets to protest. The women defied the orders of traditional authorities not to march.

It is not known where the money for these trips came from, but according to Forbes in the United States, King Mswati himself has a personal fortune estimated at 200 million US dollars.

Just where the king gets his money from is a carefully guarded secret, but according to he owns (among other things) 10 per cent of every mining company in Swaziland.

Forbes says King Mswati is the beneficiary of two funds created by his father Sobhuza II in trust for the Swazi nation. During his reign, he has absolute discretion over use of the income, which has allowed him to build palaces for each of his wives and stay at five-star hotels when abroad.

In June 2009, Mfomfo Nkhambule reported that King Mswati had doled out 6,000 US dollars (about E60,000 at the then exchange rate) to each of the surviving 20 sons and daughters of the late King Sobhuza III – which apparently is an annual ritual.

We also know that the people of Swaziland have to pay for the king’s extravagances. Last year (2008) they were forced to spend about 10 million dollars on a party to ‘celebrate’ the king’s 40th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the kingdom’s independence.

As well as his personal wealth, King Mswati receives money from the Swazi taxpayer. In this year’s Swaziland national budget he gets E130 million for his family’s upkeep.

In March 2009, I reported the national budget for Swaziland put aside E130 million for King Mswati and his family. This figure, which is almost certainly only a fraction of the money the king draws from the Swazi people, is more than the money Swaziland will spend on capital expenditure for education (E113 million) or capital expenditure on social security and welfare (E73 million).

The E130 million for the king listed in the budget as ‘royal emoluments and civil list’ is an increase on the E85.2 million he was given by Swazi taxpayers for the financial year 2007/2008.

The figures are part of the annual budget for Swaziland that was approved by the House of Assembly. To put that E130 million into some context: in Swaziland 70 percent of the families of one million Swazi people live on less than E10 a day, while the Royal Family gets by on a third of a million a day.

In the present financial year, the total amount of income tax collected from individuals working in Swaziland is estimated to be E1,080 million, or put another way it means that each person who pays tax in the kingdom is giving more than E8 in every 100 to the king’s family.

In April 2008, the Nation magazine, an independent monthly magazine of news and comment in Swaziland, reported that the king was receiving funds illegally from the state as the finance minister did not act in accordance with the Royal Emoluments and Civil List Act as amended in 1998.

An analysis by the Nation said the king was receiving illegally what it described as an ‘obscene’ E220m for 2008-2009 from public funds. This is a 159 percent increase on the previous year and roughly five percent of Swaziland’s national budget. The Royal Family combined get a total of E500m, the Nation calculated.

Even though we can’t find accurate figures on the income of King Mswati and the Royal Family it is clear he is not short of a dollar.

In April 2009, the king bought 20 top-of-the-range armour-plated Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guards cars for his wives at an estimated cost of E2.5 million (about 250,000 US dollars) each.

When the Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, tried to find out where the money for cars came from it met a stone wall. The king’s Private Secretary Sam Mkhombe referred all questions to the King’s Office Chief Officer, Bheki Dlamini.

However, Dlamini said the cars were not purchased through the King’s Office. He could not, however, explain to the newspaper why they were delivered at the royal residence.

The newspaper said at first he did not want to comment on the issue, but eventually said that the King’s Office was not responsible for the cars. However, his subsequent comments fell short of confirming that the vehicles could have been purchased by the king.

‘The king has various accounts that are not run through this office (King’s Office),’ he said.

Unfortunately, he did not elaborate on what kind of ‘accounts’ the king had.

The king is world renowned for his lavish lifestyle; his taste for expensive cars and the opulence of his palaces. and has a long history of extravagant personal spending for himself and his family.

While he has fabulous wealth, seven in ten Swazis live in abject poverty, earning less than one US dollar a day and the kingdom has the highest HIV infection rate in the world (40 percent).


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