But mystery surrounds who actually has paid for the vehicles, costing E2.5 million (about 250,000 US dollars each).
The cars are reported to have been purchased for the king’s wives. King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch is thought to have 13 wives, but we cannot be sure since this is information that the Swazi people are not allowed to have. It is speculated that he may have more wives than this. His father King Sobhuza II was said to have hundreds of wives.
Swaziland’s independent newspaper, the Times Sunday, today (19 April 2009) reports that the cars were delivered at Ludzidzini Royal residence from South Africa yesterday in time for the king’s 41st birthday today.
The cars, ‘military style’ Mercedes Benz S600 Pullman Guards can resist an attack with small arms projectiles, a grenade or other explosive.
They also include high-end audio, an intercom, 19-inch flat screen display, DVD player, refrigerator and wood trim as standard.
One cars’ website described the Pullman Guard as ‘The car of choice for up-and-coming dictators.’
According to the Times Sunday, the Swazi Government, through General Manager of the Central Transport Administration Polycarp Dlamini, declined any involvement in the purchase.
The king’s Private Secretary Sam Mkhombe referred all questions to the King’s Office Chief Officer, Bheki Dlamini.
However, Dlamini said the cars were not purchased through the King’s Office. He could not, however, explain to the newspaper why they were delivered at the royal residence.
The newspaper said at first he did not want to comment on the issue, but eventually said that the King’s Office was not responsible for the cars. However, his subsequent comments fell short of confirming that the vehicles could have been purchased by the king.
‘The king has various accounts that are not run through this office (King’s Office),’ he said.
Unfortunately, he did not elaborate on what kind of ‘accounts’ the king had. It is widely known that King Mswati has wealth estimated at 200 million US dollars (E2 billion), but it is less clear where this money comes from.
The king is world renowned for his lavish lifestyle; his taste for expensive cars and the opulence of his palaces. and has a long history of extravagant personal spending for himself and his family. Last year, he sent a group of his wives to Dubai on an E28 million spending spree ahead of a party to mark his 40th birthday.
While he has fabulous wealth, seven in ten Swazis live in abject poverty, earning less than one US dollar a day; the kingdom has the highest HIV infection rate in the world (42 percent) and this month the Swazi Government said it would not comply with its constitutional obligation to introduce free primary schooling because it could not afford to.
The new cars have been delivered just seven months after the royal family, through the King’s Office, bought a fleet of BMW X5s that were unveiled during the 40/40 national celebrations. An additional E20 million was spent by government last year on another fleet of BMW 5 Series that were used to chauffeur leaders who were invited to the event, which some estimates say cost at least 10 million US dollars.