Monday, July 29, 2013


As Swaziland gets ready for the annual Umhlanga or Reed Dance Festival media across the world are falling for King Mswati III’s propaganda.

At the forefront are the travel media which report the Reed Dance as a colourful spectacle with a tradition going back centuries.

A typical example of the gushing hyperbole was published on the website Travel Video News on 24 July 2013. It reported, ‘[Y]oung women from all over Swaziland and beyond her borders converge on the royal residence in Ludzidzini for this momentous occasion’. They carry newly-cut reeds to protect the Queen Mother’s residence.

‘Residents of this tiny mountainous Kingdom are intensely proud of their deep culture and taking part in the Festival is a proud and privileged moment for all the family.’

It went on, ‘The Umhlanga Festival is a visual spectacle that bonds this small but perfectly formed nation. Its ever- increasing popularity defies the apparent decline of traditional cultures elsewhere in Africa. Witnessing this festival is a truly unique experience.’

The report was wrong in almost every detail, except for the undeniable fact that the Reed Dance takes place (it will be held in August or September: at the king’s pleasure.) The ceremony is not centuries old (it started under the present king’s reign) and the festival is far from a privileged moment for all the family,

The sinister nature of the Reed Dance was revealed last year (2012) when about 500 children were ordered to sing a song vilifying political parties. This was part of a clampdown on dissent in the kingdom, where King Mswati rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. 

This children were taught a song to sing at the dance which had lyrics that when translated into English said political parties ‘set people against each other’ and said that if political parties were allowed to exist in the kingdom the king’s people ‘could start fighting each other’.

Political parties are banned in Swaziland, but ahead of this year’s national election there is increasing pressure from pro-democrats for this to change. Some traditional authorities also believe that support for the present system that puts them in control is on the wane. In Swaziland pro-democracy demonstrations have been attacked by police and state security forces.

Last year about 500 children were chosen from all 350 chiefdoms in Swaziland to attend rehearsals at Ludzidzini Royal Residence and the Correctional Services Institution in Matsapha to learn the song. They were then ordered to return to their homes and teach the words to other girls in their chiefdoms.

Lobayeni Dlamini, who worked with the girls (usually referred to as ‘maidens’) on the song told the Times of Swaziland, there were fewer people who stood up to defend the present political system in Swaziland and therefore there was a strong need to send a message.

This was not the only year in which children were compelled to sing the king’s praises. In 2009, the South Africa Press Association reported, ‘During the four-hour event, children sang songs which glorified Mswati and condemned his enemies.

‘“This land is your land our king, your enemies want to destroy you,” they sang.

Observers inside Swaziland also doubt that the girls who are expected to dance half-naked in front of the king do not choose to attend of their own free will. The chiefs in the rural areas where they live require them to attend and the girls’ families can be victimised if they do not go.

Musa Hlophe, a regular columnist for the Times of Swaziland, one of the few newspapers in the kingdom not owned by King Mswati, commented after one Reed Dance that many of the girls who attended went because it was their only chance to get a decent meal.

Hlophe wrote, ‘Judging from the appearances of these dancing girls, one may be fooled into thinking all is well in the kingdom of Eswatini [Swaziland].

‘What will be hidden to the unsuspecting outsider is that most of these girls will have had a balanced meal while at the Reed Dance. That most of these girls (about 80 per cent of them) come from families who are among the 500,000 people who survive on food aid [out of a population of about 1.3 million]. After all the glamour of this week’s events, these girls return to grinding poverty by Tuesday or Wednesday or whenever their masters feel they are now disposable, having fulfilled their responsibilities to our rulers and their visitors.

‘What the unsuspecting visitors do not know is that Swaziland is a country in serious crisis. It is said we are still number one in the world, with the highest HIV prevalence rates, notwithstanding the slight reduction, We are a country with diminishing opportunities for foreign direct investments, with 70 per cent of the country’s population living on less than one dollar a day.

‘Further compounded by one of the severest drought in living memory, Swaziland would not be expected to be celebrating the way it seems to be just now. The hundreds of trucks ferrying the thousands of girls to Ludzidzini could have been used to deliver the much needed water and foodstuff to the starving population.

‘But who counts in Swaziland are the people among the ruling elite. In Swaziland, the poor have no rights or needs of their own. The ruling elite will now and again run charities for the poor and elderly and the poor take these as some form of generosity by their masters.’

In 2009, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the king, reported that special security squads had to be formed to ensure that the girls attended the Reed Dance ceremony. It transpired that they took the trip from their villages, but instead of dancing before the king they chose to spend their time in other pursuits.

Nothando Nhlengethwa, one of the people in charge of the maidens, told the newspaper, security forces checked up on the maidens. Each chiefdom had been told to supply a list of the names of those who leave the villages to attend. This list was then checked on a daily basis to ensure that the girls did in fact arrive at the reed dance and participated fully.

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Several of the wives of King Mswati III who rules the impoverished kingdom of Swaziland are presently on a vacation trip to Japan and Australia that will cost an estimated US$10 million, a prodemocracy group has reported.

In total, about 100 people will be on the trip, the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said. 
The group will be travelling variously on commercial aircraft and the wives will travel on royal state aircraft.

In a statement SSN, quoting ‘sources within the royal family’, said, ‘The sole purpose of this trip is vacation. It is rumoured that the trip will cost R20 million (about US$10 million) in accommodation, travel allowances, air tickets, visas and other necessities.’

The trip which is said to have begun on 20 July is shrouded in secrecy. No official confirmation of the trip has been made by King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, or his hand-picked government.

It is not clear how many of King Mswati’s are on the trip. He is widely believed to have 13 wives in total, but this cannot be confirmed as the information is considered to be a state secret.

A group of King Mswati’s wives take expensive vacations each year. Last year (2012) they went on vacation to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas in the United States. On that occasion three of the wives were accompanied by an entourage of 55 people. Prodemocracy activists reported they stayed in 10 villas at the cost of US$2,400 per villa per night.

In 2010, a group of the king’s wives went on what was described at the time as ‘another multi-million dollar international shopping spree’ to Brussels in Belgium and London, UK. 

About 80 other people went on the trip to tend to the needs of the queens.

In August 2009, five of King Mswati’s wives went on a shopping trip through Europe and the Middle East that cost an estimated US$6 million.

At the time media in Swaziland were warned not to report on the trip because it would harm the king’s reputation. Media houses were told they would face sanctions, including possible closure, if word got out. But newspapers and websites across the world followed the story.

The Times of London, for example, reported how the queens went on a shopping spree while the subjects of King Mswati went hungry. Seven in ten of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 a day.

The Australian newspaper said the king ignored the Swazi poor and the newspaper reminded readers that Swaziland relied on international aid from the European Union and the United States.

The previous year in August 2008 when a group of the king’s wives went on a similar shopping spree ordinary Swazi women were so outraged that they took to the streets of Swaziland in protest. 

King Mswati does not accompany his wives on these trips. However, he is known to spend lavishly on himself and his wives when he does make trips. A typical example was in April 2011 when he went to London to attend the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton. The cost of the plane alone to take him to the UK cost the Swazi people US$700,000.

The following year he was back in London to attend a lunch to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. He took with him his first wife Inkhosikati LaMbikiza. She wore to the lunch shoes trimmed with jewels that cost £995 (US$1,559). It would take seven-out-of-ten Swazis at least three years to earn the price of the shoes.

The cost of the King’s five-day trip to the UK for the Diamond Jubilee was estimated to be at least US$794,500. 

The extravagant spending came just as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticised Swaziland for diverting money that should have been used on education and health to other spending.  

As a result of this spending the IMF withdrew its team that was advising the government on economic recovery from Swaziland.

The King is regularly criticised in media across the globe for his extravagant lifestyle, but media in Swaziland dare not criticise him. At the time of the visit to the Diamond Jubilee the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, featured a report about LaMbikiza’s shoes, gushing that she had received ‘rave reviews’ from a UK newspaper for her dress sense. 

It did not, however, say that the same newspaper reported, ‘Guests from controversial regimes include Swaziland’s King Mswati III, who has been accused of living an obscenely lavish lifestyle while many of his people starve.’ 

While more than half of the Swazi population rely on some form of food aid to keep them from hunger, King Mswati has 13 palaces in Swaziland, one for each of his wives; fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars and at least one Rolls Royce. 

Last year, for his 44th birthday he received a private jet worth US$17 million as a gift. He refused to reveal who bought it for him, leading to speculation that it was paid for out of public funds.

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Prince Hlangusemphi, Swaziland’s Minister of Economic Planning and Development, was wide of the mark when he told the World Food Programme (WFP) that eradicating hunger in the kingdom was a ‘tangible goal’ that the government was committed to achieving.

He was responding to a report that said Swaziland lost US$92 million per year in the economy because people were too hungry to work properly.

But, the real evidence is that it is the Swaziland Government, hand-picked by absolute monarch King Mswati III, which is the major cause of the hunger.

In 2012, three separate reports from the World Economic Forum, United Nations and the Institute for Security Studies all concluded the Swazi government was largely to blame for the economic recession and subsequent increasing number of Swazis who had to skip meals. 

The reports placed the blame at the financial mismanagement of the Swazi government.

The reports listed low growth levels, government wastefulness and corruption, and lack of democracy and accountability as some of the main reasons for the economic downturn that has led to an increasing number of starving Swazis.

The Swazi Government was also accused earlier this year of deliberately withholding food donated from overseas as aid from hungry people as a policy to induce them to become disaffected with their members of parliament and blame them for the situation. Newspapers in Swaziland and abroad reported the government wanted to punish the kingdom’s MPs for passing a vote of no confidence against it. 

Earlier this year it was revealed that the Swaziland Government had sold maize donated as food aid by Japan for hungry children in the kingdom on the open market and deposited the US$3 million takings in a special bank account.

The latest report called the Cost of Hunger in Africa was prepared by the government of Swaziland working together with WFP. It found that around 270,000 adults in Swaziland, or more than 40 percent of its workers, suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition. As a result, they were more likely to get sick, do poorly in school, be less productive at work and have shorter lives.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013


The number of people who have registered to vote in Swaziland’s upcoming election has been ‘grossly distorted’, the kingdom’s Communist Party has said. 

In a statement, the Communist party of Swaziland (CPS) said King Mswati III and his regime were pushing ahead with the election which starts in August and continues in September ‘in the face of widespread voter apathy and crippling corruption’.

Swaziland’s Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) announced 411,084 people had registered to vote out of the 600,000 people in the kingdom eligible to vote.

Kenneth Kunene, general secretary of the CPS, said, ‘Our cadres have been closely monitoring the situation. There is no evidence that anything like that number of people have registered. Quite the opposite. We have seen much apathy, resistance and passive opposition to Mswati's elections.’

The CPS said it had been running ‘a clandestine campaign’ to urge a boycott of the elections. It had circulated 10,000 anti-election leaflets in the kingdom, and is organizing ‘below-radar meetings and door-to-door campaigning’ to inform about the anti-democratic nature of the elections.

In Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last remaining absolute monarch, political parties are banned from contesting the election. Most opposition groups in Swaziland are banned as ‘terrorists’.

The election is for 55 members of the 65-seat House of Assembly. The king appoints the other 10 members. No members of the 30-strong Swazi Senate are elected by the people: 20 senators are appointed by the king and the other 10 are selected by members of the House of Assembly.

The CPS said that what registration that had taken place was largely enforced by local chiefs, who are key officials in the feudal Tinkhundla system that is the administrative framework of Swaziland.

Kunene said that the election system is corrupt from start to finish, and that the pre-election process had ‘been fraught with scandal and fraud’.

The CPS said it had evidence that chiefs had threatened to confiscate land and deny privileges to potential voters unless they turned up to vote.

Kunene said, ‘The police have also been threatening people to make them register. Very few people have been voluntarily going along to register. Everyone knows that these elections are not about equality, rights or representation.’

Kunene added, ‘The regime is planning to hold what it calls “voter education”. This will be a chaotic mess, as the police are planning to enforce participation, as they tried with the registration process. All this is simply reinforcing the people's opposition to the elections. They are realizing that the polls have nothing to do with improving their conditions.’

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