King Mswati III of Swaziland will celebrate his 47th birthday at Buhleni, one of his 13 palaces, in the Hhohho region, one of the poorest regions of his kingdom.
Details of the celebrations on 19 April 2014 have yet to be announced, but if they follow celebrations in recent years King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will ensure that many millions of dollars are spent on him.
In 2013 his birthday party cost US$3.6 million, but Percy Simelane, spokesperson for the Swazi Government, which is handpicked by the King, said this money did not come out of the kingdom’s budget for celebrations and national events. He told Voice of America radio, ‘The king’s birthday was privately sponsored this year, as [was] the case was last year.’
He did not say who sponsored the event.
Also in 2013, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), a banned political party in Swaziland, reported 32 BMW cars had been delivered to King ahead of his 45th birthday celebrations.
In 2012, the King was embroiled in a row when he took delivery of a private jet plane, worth an estimated US$46 million. He claimed that the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 twin-engine jet was a gift from an admirer, but declined to say who it was. This led to speculation that the jet had been purchased out of public funds.
Every year the King demands that his subjects, seven in ten have incomes of less than US$2 a day, slaughter their cattle for his feast.
The King choses a different area of his kingdom to visit for his birthday celebrations. In 2012, the venue was Shiselweni, Swaziland’s poorest region. Locals were forced to give up their cattle for the King. At the time, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), a banned organisation in Swaziland, called for the party to be cancelled.
It said in a statement, ‘Shiselweni is the country’s poorest region, the same area where the country’s poorest citizens live. Areas like Lavumisa are so poverty stricken that its residents have at times been reported to be living on poisonous shrubs. Despite this abject poverty in the region, the king has insensitively decided to throw a lavish birthday party and rub his stolen riches in the people’s poverty stricken faces.’
Last year (2014), the King’s birthday party received global attention when world-famous hip-hop and soul singer Erykah Badu sang for the monarch.
King Mswati’s grip on power in his kingdom is so great that at present magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko are serving two years in jail for contempt of court after calling the independence of the Swazi judicial system into question in articles in a small circulation magazine, the Nation.
Also, seven people are in jail awaiting trial for wearing T-shirts supporting the pro-democracy group PUDEMO.
It was against this background that Badu, who in the past had been a vocal supporter of human rights, sang the King’s praises and gave him a US$100 note as a gift.
Badu was so stung by the criticism that followed she went on Twitter to defend herself. She refused to apologise, saying, ‘I can’t be held responsible for the situation in the kingdom because I signed up as an artist, not as a political activist.’
KING DEMANDS COWS FROM THE POOR