A Swazi newspaper has told its readers that King Mswati III’s net personal wealth is estimated at US$200 million (E2 billion), breaking protocol that the personal life of the monarch is never discussed.
The estimate first came from the Forbes magazine in 2007, repeated in 2009 and has been widely reported all over the world and used extensively by critics of the king who say he squanders money on himself while seven in ten of his 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty on less than US$2 per day.
Now, the Times Sunday,an independent newspaper in the Swaziland where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has reported an interview the king gave with the international news agency, Reuters.
The interview was published on 13 September 2013, but it is only now that the Times has reported on it.
In its report the Times Sunday says, ‘In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated his personal wealth at US$200 million (about E2 billion).
‘In response to this estimation, the king told Reuters that he had no idea where the figures came from.
‘“I was very surprised and wondered where I got all this amount of money,” said His Majesty the King.
‘“You just live according to what you can afford and according to your taste within the budget that has been allocated. It’s not in anyone’s interest to overspend.”’
The report from Reuters, published in the run-up to the national election in Swaziland in September, was largely critical of the king.
Reuters reported, but the Times Sunday did not repeat, ‘The king denied accusations of autocracy and was unapologetic about the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by him and his dozen or so wives, each of whom has a palace paid for by an administration that he himself appoints.’
It added, ‘On the streets of the capital, Swazis offer criticism of the king only in whispered tones, leaving the most strident voices to come from the relative safety of South Africa.
‘“This is a monarchy that says there is a constitution for the government and then says that we rule above it," Wandile Dludlu of the Swaziland United Democratic Front, a coalition of pro-democracy activists, told a seminar in Pretoria this week.
‘“We should not allow Mswati to play God over our lives.”’
Reuters also reported, ‘Despite his [the king’s] self-assurance, outside the concrete walls of Lozitha, guarded by soldiers and conveniently sitting next door to the Ministry of Defence, all is not well in the tiny sugar-producing kingdom of rocky hills and rolling plains.
‘Swaziland has the world's highest HIV/AIDS rate, with more than one in four adults infected, and the $4 billion economy is flat-lining, starved of investment and struggling to recover from a 2011 budget crunch that almost bankrupted the state.’
Reuters also quoted a report from the UK-based think tank Chatham House which said,‘Swaziland is on a non-sustainable trajectory, which the king and the government will ignore at their peril.’
Reuters reported, ‘The chief resident of Lozitha [the king] does not share the concerns.’
The publication by the Times Sunday of the Reuters’ report will bring back memories of 2007, when King Mswati threatened to close down the newspaper and its companion titles the Times of Swaziland and Swazi News after it reported a news agency report critical of the king.
Then, the Times Sunday reported Afrol News, from Norway, which said, ‘Swaziland is increasingly paralysed by poor governance, corruption and the private spending of authoritarian King Mswati III and his large royal family. The growing social crisis in the country and the lessening interest of donors to support King Mswati’s regime has also created escalating needs for social services beyond the scale of national budgets.’
King Mswati called the Times publisher to Lozitha Palace and threatened to close down the newspapers unless the people responsible for the publication of the article were sacked and an abject apology was published. The Times did as it was told.
On the Thursday (22 March 2007) following publication an ‘unreserved apology’ to the king was published on the front page of the Times of Swaziland (repeated in the following week’s Times Sunday).
The apology signed by both the publisher and managing editor of the Times Group said the article, ‘was disparaging to the person of His Majesty in its content, greatly embarrassed him and should not have passed editorial scrutiny.’
It went on, ‘Our newspapers take great care with matters regarding the monarch, being conscious always of the unbreakable link of the King with the Nation. What occurred is reprehensible and we will renew our vigilance in editorial matters with the utmost vigour.’
To make absolutely certain that there was no doubt of the newspaper group’s subservience to the king, it finished the apology, ‘Once again your Majesty, our sincere and humble apologies.’
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