Authorities in Swaziland (eSwatini) want to censor future public speeches by the US Ambassador Lisa Peterson after she criticised the kingdom’s absolute monarch King Mswati III for his lavish spending on luxury Rolls-Royce and BMW cars.
It was not the first time she had criticised the King. She warned that donors who gave money to Swaziland for development would think twice before contributing in the future.
An online newspaper the Swaziland News reported that Ambassador Peterson is now under police surveillance.
Peterson had made comments while giving certificates to young entrepreneurs at Nhlangano on Friday (8 November 2019). Earlier in the week the King had taken delivery of at least 15 Rolls-Royce cars for his wives and family and 79 luxury BMW cars worth US$6 million for ‘escort duties’. A fleet of BMW motorcycles were also purchased.
The African Press Agency (APA) quoted her saying, ‘As a development partner, I have serious concerns about the leadership example currently coming out of the palace.’
She added, ‘While the government continued using its existing vehicle fleet, the palace sees fit to acquire more than a dozen Rolls-Royce vehicles with a minimum price tag of $3.71 million. To accompany this royal fleet, there is now an even larger fleet of official escort vehicles, purchased with public funds.’
She said, ‘It is exceedingly difficult for development partners to continue advocating for assistance to eSwatini when such profligate spending or suspicious giving is taking place.’
Following her comments the former chief executive officer in the King’s Office, now Shiselweni Regional Administrator, Vincent Mhlanga, told the Eswatini Observer (formerly Swazi Observer), a newspaper in effect owned by the King, that he was angered by the Ambassadors speech.
The Observer quoted him saying, ‘Going forward, when she comes to the region for any activity or event, we need to first know what she will say.’
The Swaziland News reported, ‘The Regional Administrator said it was unfortunate that he was not present when the Ambassador made these sentiments, otherwise, he could have stopped her from continuing with the speech.’
He said, ‘If I was present, I could have intervened and told her that she was offside, it’s unfortunate that I was not there to reign on her. We have learnt a lesson and now each time she comes in the region she would have to declare what she has to offer. We can’t allow her to push any political agenda in function we thought are to capacitate the youth, doing so is dangerous.’
The Swaziland News also reported that Ambassador Peterson was under police surveillance. It said plain clothes police posing as journalists took photographs of the Ambassador during her visit to Nhlangano.
It reported eSwatini Police Spokesperson Superintendent Phindile Vilakati said it was part of the Intelligence Unit duties to gather information on what was happening in the kingdom.
It reported, ‘The Intelligence Officers who posed as journalists were seen keeping an eye on the Ambassador and monitoring her movements after delivered a speech highly critical of the Monarch. However, the core message of her sentiments was censored in the eSwatini two newspapers.’
Vilakati told the Swaziland News, ‘We go to any gathering and collect information, it’s not like we’re only targeting the American Ambassador. We have been doing this for a long time, collecting information for our files.’
The Swaziland News reported, ‘Information gathered suggests that the police spies were not only monitoring the US envoy but independent journalists, union leaders and members of the progressives. But the interest of the police to the USA Ambassador intensified after she came hard on King Mswati for the continuous expenditure particularly on the delivery of BMWs and Rolls-Royce cars to the royalty.’
Ambassador Peterson has previously criticised the absolute monarchy in Swaziland. In an article published in November 2018 by both of Swaziland’s two national daily newspapers she called for the decree that puts King Mswati in power as an absolute monarch to be repealed. She also called for political parties to be allowed to contest elections.
In 2016, after reports that three of the King’s wives had taken an entourage of 100 people on a shopping trip to Toronto, Canada, Peterson warned Swaziland that the kingdom might not receive further food aid from her country because of the King’s ‘lavish spending’ on holidays.
News24 in South Africa reported at the time Peterson said the US had limited funds for drought relief. She said, ‘When we hear of the lavish spending by the Swazi royal family – especially while a third of their citizens need food aid – it becomes difficult to encourage our government to make more emergency aid available. You can’t expect international donors to give more money to the citizens of Swaziland than their own leaders give them.’
South African media reported that the queens, their bodyguards, protocol officials, family and other ‘support staff’ were on the trip that was expected to last eight days. The City Press newspaper in Johannesburg reported the vacation had irritated diplomats who were motivating for more drought relief aid for the Kingdom, which was in the grips of its worst drought in 18 years.
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