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Friday, 20 February 2015

MEDIA BACK KING’S FALSE HIV PROMISE

Newspapers in Swaziland lost their critical faculties when they reported that King Mswati ‘would personally’ eradicate HIV and AIDS in the kingdom by 2022.

The King made his statement while opening the Swazi Parliament on Thursday (19 February 2015).

In a confused passage in his speech, King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, said, ‘I wish to assure the nation that I will personally see to it that the first world Swaziland is HIV /AIDS free.’

Both the Swazi Observer and the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only two daily newspapers, reported this to mean the King had set himself a deadline of 2022; he has many times in the past said Swaziland would be a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.

The newspapers reported the King’s promise prominently.  The Observer, which is in effect owned by the King, reported, ‘There was unprecedented clapping of hands in the House of Assembly as His Majesty King Mswati III assured the Swazi nation that he would personally see to it that the First World Swaziland is HIV and AIDS free. 

‘Ordinarily, parliamentarians and invited guests shout Bayethe when the King sends a message they fully support, but the gathering was besides itself as the King made this commitment.’

The Times, a privately-owned paper, called it a ‘bold declaration’. It added, ‘This means that the country will be free of the epidemic in seven years’ time.’

The King gave no further information about how he would achieve this goal. The newspapers reported the King’s announcement without criticism. At present there is no cure for HIV, so it could be interpreted that the King personally intends to find that cure.

With 26 percent of adults in the 15-49 age group HIV positive, Swaziland has the world’s highest estimated prevalence rate of HIV-infected adults. In addition, Swaziland’s tuberculosis (TB) incidence rate is the highest in the world and 80 percent of TB patients are co-infected with HIV. 

The catastrophic effect of HIV and AIDS on Swaziland's mortality rates has created a society in which about 15 percent of the 1.2 million population are orphans and vulnerable children, many of whom live in child-headed households.

King Mswati has a long history of unusual responses to the HIV pandemic. In 2014, it was reported his kingdom would pay teenaged girls E200 (about US$20) per month if they refused to have sex. 

The South African news organisation IoL reported Thabsile Dlamini, a health care worker in Manzini, saying, ‘The government will pay girls the allowances so they will have money to purchase necessities and can turn down money offered to them for sex.’

In 2001, King Mswati banned ‘young maidens’ from having sex for five years to halt the spread of HIV/Aids. Any man who contravened the maidens' chastity rule was to be fined one cow. 

Later, the BBC reported, ‘King Mswati transgressed the ban when he took a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife just two months after imposing the sex ban in September 2001, sparking unprecedented protests by Swazi women outside the royal palace.’

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