Princess Sikhanyiso

Mbabane - The children of Swaziland’s King Mswati have inherited their father’s infatuation with pricey cars.

His eldest daughter, Princess Sikhanyiso, took possession of a customised SUV worth about R450 000 at the weekend.

The standard price of the vehicle is R350 000. The Swazi Observer newspaper, owned by Mswati’s royal conglomerate, reported: “The car was bought by the princess and the extras cost her more than R100 000.”

“The customised all-new Kia Soul was made specifically for her, with her own personal specifications,” the newspaper reported.

While the car is priced at R250 000 in South Africa, in Swaziland the Times of Swaziland reported, “The standard price of this futuristic, funky sophisticated Kia Soul model is R350 000. The princess's customised gold and white chic car is perfect for a princess.”

At a ceremonial presentation of the car at a Kia dealership in Mbabane, the Minister of Transportation, who was appointed by Mswati, presided over the lifting of a red veil draped over the princess’s vehicle.

The princess, attended by security personnel wearing traditional warrior attire, expressed her delight at the car.

The extras she ordered included passenger video screens as part of an entertainment centre with a premium sound system.

The princess serves on the board of directors of MTN Swaziland, which holds a monopoly on the country’s cell-phone business and is partly owned by King Mswati through shareholdings.

Mswati is known for his fleet of luxury vehicles, including a Maybach and a Rolls-Royce.

When press reports of the cars drew criticism of the royal family’s lavish lifestyle, the palace responded by forbidding photography of the king’s vehicles.

It is not known whether photographs of the cars of the king’s children are to be banned.

Poverty

“It’s not that the royal family is tone deaf to criticism of their lavish spending – it can be they never hear the criticism,” said Andrew Thwala, a pro-democracy activist in Manzini.

The extent of the king’s wealth is considered a state secret in Swaziland.

About 70 percent of the king’s subjects live in chronic poverty, according to the UN Development Programme, and average life expectancy has declined during Mswati’s 28-year reign.

A new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found Swazis to be the seventh-hungriest people on Earth, with 36 percent malnourished.

Food interventions from the World Food Programme and charities have averted famine in the kingdom, but the WFP reports more Swazis are cutting down on meals.

Child malnutrition and the physical and mental stunting of Swazi children who do not have enough to eat is an ongoing problem in the country, the WFP said.

- Independent Foreign Service