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MBABANE: Swaziland’s King Mswati III, in a rare appearance in the traditional setting of the royal cattle byre, has dashed expectations that he would use the special occasion to announce measures to deal with poverty, corruption and governance issues.
The announcement late last week that he would issue a “call to the nation” from the traditional cattle byre prompted speculation that he might respond to growing pressure for democratic reforms to the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
Instead, the king called on his subjects to solve their problems through dialogue.
“Outsiders are talking about change in Swaziland. Swazis must talk about the country here,” said Mswati, indicating the cow dung-encrusted byre at Ludzidzini Royal Residence where he sat on the ground in traditional attire, surrounded by his sons, senior traditional leaders and the heads of the security forces.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 2 000 Swazis, most of them males and who were obliged to sit on the ground in such a way that their heads were not higher than his, the 44-year-old king spoke in a deep SiSwati dialect that is no longer intelligible to many Swazis.
The king decried foreign influences in Swaziland and opened the royal kraal to deliberations, beginning today.
In a rambling address, Mswati expressed concern about the state of Swaziland, without mentioning specifics. He referred obliquely to a teachers’ strike that is under way.
Dubbed “people’s parliaments” by the Swazi media, the rarely held royal kraal convocations allow Swazis to express their views. Previous convocations have been censored to block opinions considered undesirable by the government.
Details of Mswati’s speech were not revealed in advance. Speculation was rife that the king would fire his hand-picked cabinet, unban political parties or end the teachers’ strike.
“Instead, the king has again used the traditional structures to do nothing,” said Themba Thwala, 55, a member of the banned political opposition party the People’s United Democratic Front.