Thursday, April 16, 2009


Does King Mswati III of Swaziland know something that the rest of us don’t?

He has taken delivery of armoured ‘military style’ Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guard cars … to be used by his wives.

King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, will eventually have as many as 20 of the cars, valued at E2.5 million each (about 250,000 US dollars), which can resist an attack with small arms projectiles, a grenade or other explosive.

The cars, which are being delivered to Swaziland from the Mercedes Benz Union Motors dealer in Nelspruit, South Africa, also include high-end audio, an intercom, 19-inch flat screen display, DVD player, refrigerator and wood trim as standard.

One website described the car as ‘The car of choice for up-and-coming dictators.’

The king is world renowned for his lavish lifestyle; his taste for expensive cars and the opulence of his palaces, and has a long history of extravagant personal spending for himself and his family. Last year, he sent a group of his wives to Dubai on an E28 million spending spree ahead of a party to mark his 40th birthday.

The party itself, which was also linked with celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence from Britain, is thought to have cost E100 million.

It is not clear why the king’s wives need armour-enforced cars, unless there is a fear that they may be subject of attack, but if so by whom?

Neither is it clear why he needs 20 cars. He is believed to have 13 (or possibly 14) wives, but the exact number is not known, since this is information that the Swazi people are not allowed to have.

King Mswati is becoming increasingly unpopular among his own Swazi subjects and within the international community. Last month (March 2009) he was forced to remind his own army that it shouldn’t consider overthrowing him.

King Mswati has a personal wealth estimated by Forbes to be 200 million US dollars (E2 billion), but it is unlikely that he will have used his own cash to buy the cars. In the past the Swazi taxpayer has had to foot the bill for his extravagancies. In 2002, the Swazi Government secretly paid E28 million on a deposit for a private jet for the king costing E720 million. The purchase was abandoned after news of the deal leaked out and local and international outrage forced a stop to the sale, but not before the deposit was lost.

While the king flaunts wealth that doesn’t belong to him, about 70 percent of the one million population in Swaziland live in abject poverty, earning less than one dollar a day. Last year six in ten people needed some form of food aid from international donors to fend off starvation.

Money is so tight in Swaziland that the Swazi Government says it is unable to implement a constitutional obligation to provide free primary schooling because it can’t afford to.

The latest extravagance by King Mswati has been condemned by the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) which it calls a ‘grand theft against the people of Swaziland’.

SSN has called on the international community to ‘condemn this scandalous abuse of Swaziland public resources’ and wants workers to boycott the handling of the cars.

It also calls on ‘progressive organisations locally and internationally to support a campaign of boycott and sanctions of all of Mswati’s financial and diplomatic interests and the freezing of all his personal assets in South Africa and worldwide’.

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