King Mswati III of Swaziland demonstrated on Thursday his ability to rule as an autocratic monarch by unilaterally renaming his kingdom on his 50th birthday.
His surprise command came during his speech at a celebration that had largely gone unheralded outside of the tiny impoverished kingdom.
The King wearing a red military uniform spoke at what had become known as the 50/50 Celebration to mark both his birthday and the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s Independence from Great Britain that falls on 6 September 2018.
The Kings proclamation might prove to be unconstitutional, but he has shown little respect for the Swaziland Constitution that was adopted in 2005 and came into effect a year later.
The King said Swaziland would now be called ‘the Kingdom of eSwatini’. He had been using this name for some years, even when addressing international bodies such as the United Nations, but his kingdom was always known officially as ‘The Kingdom of Swaziland.’
Chris Fitch, one of the few journalists from a global media organisation present at the speech which was made at the Mavuso stadium in Manzini, Swaziland, reported on the Geographical website, King Mswati told his audience, ‘As we are aware the name “Swaziland” was inherited from the British. If we are to give true meaning to our independence, time has come to give our country a name of its people. It must be said that this process is long overdue, particularly if you consider how other countries in the region localised their names after independence.’
Fitch reported, ‘After the modest whistles that greeted most of the King’s pronouncements, the flag-waving crowd saved their loudest cheers for the declaration that the country would revert to their indigenous name. “I have the pleasure to present to you,” he declared, “on this historic day, a new name for the kingdom. Our country will now be called — the Kingdom of eSwatini”’.
The announcement from the King was widely derided on social media with posters debating new names for institutions such as the Royal Swazi Police and the University of Swaziland. Thursday (19 April 2018) and Friday are public holidays in Swaziland so the heavily-censored media in the kingdom itself have yet to report on the name change, but it is expected they will give enthusiastic support to the move.
Days before the 50/50 Celebration the King had given himself a birthday present when he took delivery of his second private jet – this one an A340-300 Airbus – that might have cost as much as US$30 million, paid for out of public funds.
Seven in ten of his 1.1 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.
In Swaziland, political parties are not allowed to contest elections and the King chooses the Prime Minister and government. He also chooses the heads of the army and police force. Opposition voices are silenced by the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
SECRECY OVER COST OF KING’S NEW JET
‘NO COMMONWEALTH HEADS AT 50/50’
THOUSANDS PROTEST IN SWAZILAND