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Mbabane - Restricted Swazi media are self-censoring news of King Mswati’s latest lavish trip abroad. But international reports on the international shopping spree and vacation by the king and his many wives to London and Las Vegas are being circulated widely by political dissidents.
“Pre-revolutionary France had one Marie Antoinette. Swaziland has 13,” said Sihle Simelane, a political activist.
Mswati left on Thursday, leading an entourage of 65 whose first stop was Namibia. International press reports put the cost of the excursion at about $5million (R45m). However, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, an umbrella body of Swazi trade unions and pro-democracy groups, said in a statement: “The total cost of this trip is unknown. However, similar trips in the past have cost the Swazi taxpayer at least R200 million as (the king’s party) will be travelling by privately hired jet.”
A group of political exiles and Swazis living in SA and abroad, the Swaziland Diaspora Platform (SDP), said in a statement: “It is beyond deplorable that King Mswati III, in the midst of the country’s economic crisis, finds it appropriate to use millions to take a huge entourage of his household on a luxury holiday and shopping trip to one of the most expensive holiday resorts in the world, Las Vegas, via a five-day trip to Namibia.”
“The king and government’s lavish spending continues while hundreds of thousands of Swazis are forced to continue to struggle to make ends meet and depend on aid in a country that should be able to sustain its people were it managed by an accountable and transparent government delivering on a people’s mandate,” said the SDP.
While the Swazi press has hidden the king’s excursion from its readers, it has reported government spending on officials appointed by Mswati and on security forces.
Reports said luxury cars similar to those in the king’s collection had been purchased for the government press secretary, former radio actor Percy Simelane, the prime minister and deputy prime minister.
Economic indicators continue to slide in Swaziland, offering no relief to the two-thirds of the population who live in absolute poverty.
The designer shoes worn by one of Mswati’s 13 wives to the wedding of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton in April would require the average Swazi three years to purchase, according to the Swazi Media Commentary.
Meanwhile, Swazi teachers are entering the second month of a strike, seeking a 4.5 percent pay rise, about half the country’s 2012 inflation rate. The government has declared the strike illegal and is withholding the teachers’ salaries.
The government has also rejected pay demands by nurses and other public servants. The nurses have started a “go slow”.
The government has declared a general hiring freeze, particularly for teachers, because of a dire shortage of finances. However, last week the police force hired 132 new recruits.
Independent Foreign Service