Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Swaziland’s King Mswati III is once again at the centre of a row over HIV / AIDS testing.

This time it revolves around news that he has ordered his staff to undergo compulsory HIV testing.

The Times Sunday, an independent newspaper, reported that Indvuna TV Mthethwa had told the newspaper on the record that this was the case. The newspaper electronically recorded his comments.

Once the news was out the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch,was quick to rubbish the story with Bheki Dlamini, Chief Officer in the King’s Office, saying, ‘At no time did the King or the King’s Office call on staff within the institution, to do what the report claimed.’

Dlamini says Mthethwa denies having made the statement: Times Sunday editor Mbongeni Mbingo stands by the story.

I don’t know the truth of the story but it sounds plausible that the king’s office wanted people to be tested. We know that King Mswati himself is personally worried about contracting the HIV virus and that each time he chooses a new wife, the woman selected is required to undergo HIV testing before the marriage can go ahead.

Also we know that there is mild hysteria in Swaziland over HIV. In May 2009 there were calls for people with the virus to be branded on their buttocks to advertise the fact.

In February 2009, King Mswati was blamed for the spread of HIV in Swaziland because of his lifestyle which encouraged Swazi men to disrespect women.

King Mswati has at least 13 wives (we don’t know the figure for sure because this is information the Swazi people are not allowed to have) and this encourages polygamy (men having more than one wife) in the kingdom.

AIDS activists in Swaziland also blame King Mswati III for doing too little to spread prevention messages and promote condom usage and HIV testing, and they say he sets a bad example by having so many wives.

‘The nation, especially polygamous men, look up to the monarch,’ Sphiwe Hlophe, who runs the support group Swaziland for Positive Living, told the Associated Press.

King Mswati has a poor record on HIV in Swaziland. He was slow in recognising there was an HIV problem in the kingdom and despite the urging of the international community he would not admit that the virus was in Swaziland and refused to declare a state of emergency. He did this even though it was estimated that 90 percent of the beds at Mbabane Government hospital were filled by people with AIDS.

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