Tuesday, November 28, 2017


EU sugar-coats absolute monarchy’s bitter pill
Kenworthy News Media, 27 November 2017

European Union-support for Swaziland’s monarchy-controlled sugar industry undermines the fight for democracy, even though it nominally benefits smallholders, says a new report from a Danish solidarity organization, writes Kenworthy News Media.

A new report from Afrika Kontakt commends the EU for supporting Swaziland’s sugar industry, which benefits thousands of smallholder growers of sugar cane. The problem is, however, that the smallholder growers are also left vulnerable by sugar price fluctuations and transport costs, as well as by the corruption and undermining of the fight for democracy, that EU-support for Swaziland’s sugar industry, healthcare and education systems allows.

The report is based on extensive research in Swaziland, including field studies and interviews with most actors in Swaziland’s sugar industry.

Support ends up in king’s pocket

Despite Swaziland being a small country with a population of just under 1.3 million; it is nevertheless Africa’s fourth largest sugar producer. The sugar industry employs 16 percent of the adult population in a country where unemployment is close to 30 percent, and is thus the country’s most important industry.

Swaziland is not a democracy by any definition of the word, even though elections are held every five years, the report insists, but in fact an absolute monarchy. The country spends more money on security than health, and six percent of its budget goes towards maintenance of the king’s household. It is also the most unequal country in the world, with the highest HIV-prevalence and the lowest life expectancy in the world.

“There are strong political powers that have little or no interest in changing the undemocratic nature of Swaziland. Support to the sugar industry, in the way that it is currently conducted, will therefore unavoidably and primarily end up supporting the royal family and thus undermine the democratic forces in the country,” the report says.

Demand democratic reform

As one of Swaziland’s main trading partners, who spends millions of Euros every year on development aid to Swaziland, the EU is actually in a position to demand democratic change in Swaziland, however, one of the authors of the report, Klaus Stig Kristensen from Afrika Kontakt says.

“Swaziland is a de facto dictatorship and it is difficult to ensure that international support doesn’t end up lining the pockets of King Mswati and his family. Tough measures are needed to avoid this, including demands for democratic reform and monitoring of these demands.  And if these demands not met there should be consequences, such as suspending development aid to Swaziland,” says Kristensen.

His report recommends that the EU support the democratic movement fighting for change, including illegal political parties, unions and right-based groups.

The EU should also demand that Swaziland, as a country without external enemies, spends less on security and more on the welfare of its impoverished population, and condemn Swaziland’s lack of compliance with its international rights-based obligations.

Afrika Kontakt has run development projects with Swazi civil society organisations for a decade.   

Monday, November 27, 2017


Residents in Swaziland have been fined for not attending community meetings and paying ‘homage’ to their chief.

About 20 families have been affected in in the Southern Hhohho region, according to a newspaper report in Swaziland.

It happened at Mvutshini where 20 homesteads were fined E900 each (US$64) ‘for not attending community meetings and not paying homage to the Ezulwini chiefdom,’ the Observer on Saturday reported (25 November 2017).

In Swaziland seven in ten people live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 per day.

The newspaper added, ‘They were also given at least seven days to each settle the amount or they would face the wrath’ of the main chiefdom at Ezulwini where Sifiso Mashampu Khumalo is chief.

In Swaziland chiefs are appointed by King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Chiefs are considered to be his direct representative and they have enormous power over their subjects. In June 2017 Chief Somtsewu Motsa of Lushishikishini threatened too banish all single mothers from the area he rules over to ease the burden to the community of children born out of wedlock.

The Observer on Saturday (17 June 2017) said Chief Somtsewu Motsa had called a meeting of all ‘single mothers, pastors and those known to have impregnated girls without marrying them’. The newspaper reported, ‘Reliable sources said the traditional authorities were threatening to evict anyone to be seen to defy the chief’s order.’

This was not an isolated incident. It is through chieftaincies that the King maintains control of his people and chiefs do his bidding at a local level. People know not to get on the wrong side of the chief because their livelihood depends on his goodwill. In some parts of Swaziland the chiefs are given the power to decide who gets food that has been donated by international agencies. The chiefs quite literally have power of life and death in such cases with about a third of the population of Swaziland receiving food aid each year. 

Chiefs can and do take revenge on their subjects who disobey them. There is a catalogue of cases in Swaziland. For example, Chief Dambuza Lukhele of Ngobelweni in the Shiselweni region banned his subjects from ploughing their fields because some of them defied his order to build a hut for one of his wives.

Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers.

In November 2013, the newly-appointed Chief Ndlovula of Motshane threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a E5,000 (about US$500 at the time) fine, the equivalent of more than six months income for many.

Chiefs are given stipends by the national treasury, but not salaries, and community members pay their allegiance to chiefs by weeding and harvesting their fields, and constructing the traditional mud and thatch huts usually found at chiefs’ homesteads.

 See also