King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland / eSwatini, is preparing for another lavish birthday celebration despite the poverty that ravages his kingdom.
In past years the equivalent of many millions of US dollars has been spent on his celebrations, much of it from public funds. It was reported locally that officers of His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) which deals with prisons objected to being made to donate from their salaries towards the cost of the King’s birthday celebration this year. King Mswati is Commissioner General-In-Chief of HMCS.
The King’s birthday falls on 19 April but this year that coincides with Good Friday so he has put back his own celebrations to 26 April 2019. A public holiday for that day has already been declared. The venue for the celebration will be the Buhleni Royal Residence in the Hhohho region. The King has at least 13 palaces across Swaziland, a kingdom about the size of the US state of New Jersey.
Full details of the celebration have not yet been announced.
Last year for his 50th birthday the Queen Mother gave King Mswati III a dining room suite made of gold. The Government, whose members are personally appointed by King Mswati, gave him a lounge suite trimmed with gold.
He also received cheques totalling at least E15 million (US$1.2 million) to help pay for his birthday celebration that took place on 19 April 2018.
On that day he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit weighing 6 kg studded with diamonds. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.
This happened at a time when seven in ten of the estimated 1.1 million population lived in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day. The global charity Oxfam named Swaziland as the most unequal country in the world in a report that detailed the differences in countries between the top most earners and those at the bottom.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported at the time that many of the King’s subjects visited him at Lozitha Palace to hand over gifts. It reported that this took six hours to complete.
In 2017, just as the World Food Program (WFP) revealed that one-in-three people in Swaziland were ‘in need of emergency food assistance’, media in the kingdom reported that King Mswati III’s birthday cake took three months to prepare.
The Times of Swaziland reported, ‘All eyes were on the cake that was beautifully displayed in the front during the garden party at His Majesty’s birthday celebration. Most people were asking themselves how much time it took the bakers to prepare the cake. The company has always made it a point that it prepares a beautiful cake every year for His Majesty’s birthday celebrations.’
The Swazi Observer said, ‘The purple and cream white cake was set on a gold stand that connected the 49 pieces to make it one and the artistic look was finished off with a gold lion shaped piece.’
The WFP reported, ‘Chronic malnutrition is a main concern in Swaziland: stunting affects 26 percent of children under five years. Swaziland is vulnerable to drought in the south east. 77 percent of Swazis rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods.’
In 2015, King Mswati hosted a birthday party for himself that cost at least E1.2 million (US$120,000). According to a report in the Sunday Observer, 35 cattle and 1,000 blankets were also presented to the King. The King’s subjects, through their chiefs, also contributed 69 cattle, two goats and E5,400 cash.
The newspaper said the dinner held at Ebuhleni Royal Residence was mainly sponsored by the Indonesian Consular and businessman Kareem Ashraf.
In a speech, the King told his admirers that God blessed his party.
In 2013, his birthday party cost US$3.6 million, but Percy Simelane, spokesperson for the Swazi Government, 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 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.
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.’
In 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 the time magazine editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were 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 were 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.
The Swazi Observer reported the King’s 50th birthday present from the Queen Mother