Swaziland democracy activists are calling for international sanctions and a travel ban to be imposed on King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, his Royal family, and his government ministers.
The Swaziland Diaspora Platform says the king is ‘a dictator’ who treats his kingdom ‘as his personal piggy bank’.
The call comes in the week that it was reported that three of the king’s 13 wives will travel to Las Vegas with an entourage of about 65 people on a multimillion-rand spending spree and vacation.
Reports say the trip will cost the Swazi taxpayers at least R36 million (US$4.6 million). Seven in ten of the king’s subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 a day. Political parties are banned in the kingdom and all forms of prodemocracy protest are quashed by state forces.
The SDP, in a statement, said, ‘The King and government's lavish spending continues whilst 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.’
It added, ‘Public Service trade unions such as teachers have been engaged in strike action in Swaziland for almost five weeks now over demands for a small salary increase of 4.5 percent, which would be their first increase in three years.
‘Government, under the authoritarian command of King Mswati III has been brutal in response, setting the police and army on workers, preventing them from exercising their rights to strike, freedom to assemble and freedom of expression amongst others.
‘It is beyond deplorable that King Mswati III in the midst of this crisis finds in 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 SDP went on, ‘This trip will cost millions in cash that could be used to address the plight of civil servants. Once again the poor and struggling workers are left to bear the brunt of an economy that is in crisis and a government that claims to be cash-strapped, yet continues with purchases of luxury cars for government officials to the tune of US$20 million and funding luxury trips for the monarch, and increasing the police salary budget by US$2.5million, which will have no benefit for the impoverished majority and financially distressed workers of Swaziland.
‘As King Mswati III travels to the United States of America using millions of dollars that could address basic services due to the people of Swaziland, the Swaziland Diaspora Platform urges governments like the USA to seriously consider travel bans and sanctions on this authoritarian government.
‘Whilst the US government issued sanctions on countries like Syria and Iran because those regimes are censoring Internet activity on social media such as Facebook and Twitter by human rights activists; Swazis have long been censored.
‘Internet penetration even with cellphone technology is very low, at less than 10 percent, yet media is controlled by the monarch and his government. All radio and television broadcasting stations are owned by the state and most newspaper media is constantly under pressure, therefore the use of media to disseminate information that critique government or encourage citizenship is not possible.
‘The banning of political parties, freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Swaziland is just as bad as the authoritarian regimes censoring Internet activism, it is therefore within reason to request that King Mswati III, his children, family, parliamentarians and senior government officials be penalized and sanctioned.’
SWAZI QUEENS OFF ON SHOPPING SPREE