Thursday, August 2, 2012


Earl Irvine, who is leaving his post as US Ambassador to Swaziland, reported many home truths about King Mswati, while he was in office – but only in private.

Irvine, ever the diplomat made no adverse comments about the king in public, but in private he sent messages to his bosses in Washington painting a poor picture of him.  They eventually became public when a series of cables he wrote were published by Wikileaks.

Irvine reported views that King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, was ‘not intellectually well developed’ and ‘is not a reader’. He also said the king was thought to be ‘imbalanced’. 

He wrote a confidential cableto Washington in February 2010 in which he quoted an informant saying, the king is ‘not a reader, and will not review documents left for him. [The informant] called the king “not intellectually well-developed,” and contrasted the current sovereign's scant educational background with Sobhuza II, who was educated at Lovedale College in South Africa alongside future leaders of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC).

Irvine quoted his informant calling King Mswati ‘imbalanced’. He gave an anecdote to illustrate this. ‘The king, [the informant] said, invited about forty officials and advisors to a basement in one of his palaces, where they all sat on the floor to attend to him. King Mswati III turned up the heater, which warmed the floor first, until the temperature in the room reached about 40 degrees Celsius, and told inconsequential stories to those gathered while they sweated, merely to show them he was in power.’

In a separate cable to Washington Irvine wrote about what he called ‘Witchcraft and More: A Portrait of Influences on King Mswati III’.

In the cable marked ‘confidential’, Irvine said ‘traditional leaders, superstition, and members of the royal family’ are the major influences on the king. His ministers, however, ‘remain his servants’.
Irvine wrote, ‘The king's wives’ opinions matter to the king, especially his third wife, LaMbikisa, who has an advanced degree and is the only wife to whom the king proposed.’

Irvine goes on, ‘King Mswati III believes in muti (traditional medicine used to cast spells or curses), and attempts to use muti to attack the king are taken seriously’.

He wrote that ‘muti people’ hold great sway within the royal family, and that the king must eat and drink whatever they give him during traditional ceremonies, particularly when in seclusion. ‘If they are unhappy with the direction the king is taking the country, then the king has cause to worry.’

He added, ‘According to [informant], Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini is the king's “loyal hangman,” a relationship that dates to the prime minister's alleged attempted suicide in 1990 or 1991.’

Irvine also wrote about King Mswati’s dubious business deals. In October 2009 he wrote,  ‘Royal politics and King Mswati's business interests appear to have caused the ouster of Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) CEO Tebogo Mogapi and halted parastatal Swaziland Post and Telecommunications Corporation (SPTC) from selling the MTN shares it owns to raise money for a Next Generation Networks (NGN)cell phone project.

‘Industry and press observers privately indicated that the king, who already owns many MTN shares, had wanted to purchase the MTN shares himself at a cheaper price than the buyer, MTN, was offering SPTC.’

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