Times Live, South Africa
30 April 2011
Mswati plays the artful dodger
Swazi King Mswati III had to sneak into Westminster Abbey on Friday to avoid royal wedding embarrassment.
The controversial absolute monarch, whose country is ranked among the poorest in the world, spent much of this week playing hide-and-seek with pro-democracy demonstrators tailing him across London.
Mswati was not seen entering the front of the abbey, but apparently used a side entrance to keep a low profile in case of further protest action, according to members of pro-democracy group Swaziland Vigil.
"The royal family requested that he enter privately through a back door to avoid controversy," said pro-democracy activist Fungayi Mabhunu. "I only saw a glimpse of him inside."
Although the exact seating plan inside the abbey is still unclear, it appears Mswati took his place in the 'south transept' section - dubbed "the pew of evil" by some British media owing to the presence of foreign dignitaries from several rogue states.
While some former British prime ministers were excluded from the guest list - notably Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - the list included the likes of Mswati and Zimbabwean ambassador to London Gabriel Machinga, a prominent member of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF.
The king's official spokesman, Bheki Dlamini, confirmed Mswati's presence in London, but could not be reached yesterday for comment on how he arrived inside the abbey.
Earlier in the week, Dlamini added to the game of royal hide-and-seek by refusing to divulge any details of the king's visit. "That's not my territory," Dlamini told the Sunday Times when pressed for details of Mswati's travel plans.
Mswati also kept activists guessing about his accommodation plans. He and his entourage - reportedly about 50 strong - are believed to have originally booked into the ultra-swanky Dorchester Hotel, where rooms cost upwards of R5000 a night.
Protesters staged a small demonstration outside the hotel on Tuesday, only to discover that the king had switched his booking to the equally posh Four Seasons Hotel, down the road.
The Swazi government is currently in the midst of a severe financial crisis and is battling to pay for basic services such as electricity. Last month, the country's main newspaper reported that the state electricity company was owed R13.5-million and was threatening to pull the plug on several ministries.