Monday, 22 April 2013

King Mswati III of Swaziland celebrated his birthday this week.

Two visitors show off their Mswati III emahiya.

Born born Makhosetive Dlamini on 19 April 1968, he ascended the throne in 1986 at age 18, after his father, King Sobhuza’s death. King Mswati III is Africa's last absolute monarch. (Swaziland is one of 3 countries in Africa ruled by a monarch, the others are Lesotho and Morocco.) He has the power to choose the prime minister, other top government posts and top traditional posts. Even though he makes the appointments, he has to get special advice from the queen mother and council.

In 2004, Mswati promulgated a new constitution that allows freedom of speech and assembly for the media and public, while retaining the traditional Tinkhundla system. Although Amnesty International criticized the new constitution as inadequate in some respects, Swaziland's reporters have been quoted as saying that they are generally free to report as they please. 

And so the King regularly becomes controversial. For instance there was this an incident in 2005:  In an attempt to mitigate the HIV and AIDS pandemic in 2001, the king used his traditional powers to invoke a time-honoured chastity rite (umcwasho), which encouraged all Swazi maidens to abstain from sexual relations for five years. This rite banned sexual relations for Swazis under 18 years of age from September 2001, but just two months after imposing the ban, the King violated this decree when he married a 17-year-old girl, who became his 13th wife. As per custom, he was fined a cow by members of her regiment, which he duly paid.

Wikipedia says this about King Mswati III “Mswati has been criticized for his lifestyle, especially by the media. Following criticism of his purchase of luxury cars, including a $500,000 DaimlerChrysler's flagship Maybach 62 luxury automobile, he banned the photography of his vehicles. According to the Forbes 2009 list of the World's 15 Richest Royals (in which he was placed last), King Mswati is worth a reported US$200 Million”.

Every year around this time the media put the spotlight on the King and here are some of the media comments from last year. 

A BBC Africa news report said: “Mswati III of Swaziland is accustomed to marking his birthday with a no-expense-spared celebration, literally one fit for a king. But with his country's economy in free fall, this year there is no budget for a lavish do on Thursday 19 April as he turns 44. Home Affairs Minister Prince Gcokoma has called on ordinary Swazis to donate cows to be slaughtered for a mass feast where there will be traditional music and dancing.”

Spokesperson for an organisation called Swazi Diaspora, Ntombenhle Khathwane last year said, “Going ahead with the King’s birthday celebration only confirms that Swaziland has a government and leader that does not care for and is not accountable to its people. It also confirms the wasteful spending which characterizes the Swaziland government, as well as the fact that the first priority for government is the King. We Swazis in the Diaspora would view this as irresponsible of him as a leader; to be spending millions of Emalangeni on a day’s event while the country needs those millions to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people facing the harsh realities of poverty, disease and unemployment. 

What do the locals say about their King? Ordinary Swazis tend to refer to the king in hushed tones and always with respect - and do not like to be questioned about him. 

More soon,