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Saturday, 30 May 2009


A cash windfall for social projects worth at least E100m (10m US dollars) promised by Swaziland’s Minister of Finance may not exist.

I reported in March 2009 that Majozi Sithole told the Swazi Parliament that the government had managed to retrieve the E28m it had spent (illegally) on a deposit for a private jet for King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Sithole said the money had grown from E28m and with interest it was now worth E100m. The money was reported to be from donor agencies and was be used for unnamed social projects in Swaziland.

I doubted the truth of the statement at the time and now it seems I am not alone.

According to the Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, the E100m has now grown to E400m, but nobody knew where the money is. The newspaper calls the claim that the money exists ‘a hoax’ and asks has the ‘Swazi nation been taken for a ride?’

The money was said to be under the trust of Professor Frans Whelpton at the University of South Africa. It was also said that the donors refused to allow the money to be given directly to the Government of Swaziland. By the government’s own admission about E40m a month is lost to corruption in Swaziland.

Whelpton told the Times that he has not received any money and he doesn’t know who the donors are.

The Times said the funds would no longer come from Canada as had originally been announced but would now come from Germany.

In an interesting twist this week, Barnabas Dlamini, Swaziland’s illegally-appointed prime minister, tried to blame Whelpton for the confusion.

According to the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, Dlamini told a breakfast meeting that Whelpton was involved in the project of his own accord and that the Swazi Government were ‘extra careful in our dealings with him’.

Dlamini went on to say, ‘We’re waiting to see whether the donor money is there as promised by him.’

The incompetence of the government is staggering. The whole sorry affair started because the government had secretly and illegally entered into a contract to buy a private jet for the king. When news leaked out and the outcry travelled around the world, the government was forced to abandon the contract and lost the E28m deposit.

This was in 2002 and since then the government has often told the Swazi people the money is to be refunded. And each time, nothing happens.

I doubt if much will come from the present debacle. I can’t see any connection between a lost jet deposit worth E28million and E400 million of donor funds for health and education projects.

What I can’t work out is whether the Swazi Government is simply lying to get itself out of a hole or whether the prime minister and the finance minister genuinely believe that donor agencies would be so lax as to give a professor E400m to spend as he saw fit in Swaziland.

And the final twist in the saga: the company that was to provide the jet has an outstanding court claim against Swaziland for breach of contract – for a cool E47m.

Friday, 29 May 2009


I am saddened to read that the Swazi Observer seems to be supporting the call from Swaziland MP Timothy Myeni to brand people who are HIV positive on the buttocks to advertise the fact.

The Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, has reported favourable the support readers of a UK newspaper have given to the idea.

Readers of the website of the Daily Mail, a newspaper published in London, have given ‘overwhelming support’ to the branding idea, the Observer reports.

It goes on to reproduce many of the comments left by readers on the website. This one gives a flavour of what is being said, ‘43% HIV infection rate! Those who are infected with HIV are patently not behaving responsibly. If I was the Swazi AIDS campaigner I’d be much more outraged about that.’

None of this surprises me. The Mail is probably the most politically right-wing newspaper in the UK and is no lover of Africans (at least not the black Africans). For many years it was an apologist for the apartheid regime in South Africa and it continues to give racist coverage on issues such as immigration into the UK.

I wouldn’t be the least surprised to see its readers supporting a call to end all non-white immigration into the UK and for all blacks presently in the country to be sent ‘home’.

The Mail is no lover of Swazi culture either. Like all news organisations in the world, it is not at all interested in what is going on in Swaziland, but when it does take any notice it is mostly critical.

In one report it said, ‘The kingdom of Swaziland is one of just two monarchies surviving in corrupt, cruel and collapsing southern Africa.’

Another report talks about the ‘slave status’ of Swazi women.

King Mswati, the Observer owner, will not be pleased to learn that the Mail was critical of his 40/40 celebrations last year that marked the king’s 40th birthday and the 40th anniversary of Swaziland’s independence.

The Mail criticised Paul Boateng, the British Ambassador to South Africa (the UK doesn’t have an ambassador in Swaziland, that’s how valuable it sees the kingdom), for attending the celebrations. It called him a hypocrite for saying he believed in democracy while supporting the king’s ‘sham’ democracy.

It reported that campaigners said the estimated 10 million US dollars spent on the celebrations ‘would have been better spent tackling chronic unemployment, malnutrition which affects 70 percent of the 1.1m population and the HIV epidemic which killed 10,000 people last year’.

The Observer needs to be careful about who its chooses as bedfellows.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


Only in Swaziland. Supreme Court judges have ruled that although political parties are banned in the kingdom, there is nothing to stop individual party members standing for elections.

I know. I don’t understand it either.

This judgement was described as a ‘landmark’ by the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The Swaziland Supreme Court had been asked to rule on a case brought by a group of democrats who want to see power shifted away from King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, to the people.

They claimed that the Swazi Constitution that came into effect in 2006 was inconsistent in that one section said there was freedom of association, but another section said there could be no political parties.

I’m no legal expert, but I can see the two sections don’t add up. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t want to see it that way and ruled there was no conflict.

The judges said people could be members of a political party and they could stand as individuals and then once elected link up as a group. So does that mean they stood as a party or as individuals? You decide.

At least one of the judges saw the absurdity of the ruling.

Justice Thomas Masuku in a dissenting judgement said the idea that it is possible to get elected as an individual basis and then link up with others who share similar views was a bit like a boy who intends to enrol in a school which is exclusively a girls’ school.

‘To avoid being detected at admission, and in violation of the school requirements, he titivates himself, paints his hair and does all necessary preparations to be regarded and perceived as a girl, with hope that once inside, he will show his true colours and identity. ‘

So there you have it. If you want democracy in Swaziland you have to become a transvestite.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Swaziland is once again an international laughing stock.

But this time it is not King Mswati III and his bare-breasted virgins, his teenage brides, his armoured cars and personal jet that is at the centre of the problem.

The cause of the trouble is Swazi MP Timothy Myeni who in a speech at a workshop said that all Swazis who are HIV-positive should have the fact branded on their buttocks.

‘Before having sex with anyone, people will then check the buttocks of their partners before proceeding with their mission,’ he said.

He also called for compulsory HIV testing for everyone in Swaziland, which has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world (42 percent).

Suddenly, Myeni became an international joke, with newspapers and blogsites the whole world over reporting about him.

Myeni has since apologised for the bit about branding, but he still wants compulsory testing.

To my mind the Sowetan newspaper summed up Myeni pretty well, calling him an ‘uncivilised idiot’ and a ‘foolish and arrogant man’.

Inevitably, bloggers have been calling Myeni a ‘pain in the butt’.

As well as being a Swaziland MP, Myeni is leader of a gospel group called the Ncandweni Christ Ambassadors. There have been calls to boycott the group as a protest against Myeni and to kick him out of parliament.

The Times of Swaziland, the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, has called on readers to debate Myeni ideas while the Swazi Government has refused to comment because, according to a spokesperson, they had not seen or heard the statement’ (which begs the question where has the government been while the rest of the world jeers at Swaziland?).

Myeni is a joke, but a dangerous one. Swaziland has been virtually rudderless when it comes to dealing with HIV and AIDS. At first King Mswati refused to even acknowledge there was a problem in Swaziland and once he was forced to (kicking and screaming) it was too late. Polygamy and the Swazi culture’s denigration of women generally have made it almost impossible to make headway in treating HIV AIDS as a public health issue.

The fact that Myeni’s comments were made at an HIV workshop, aimed at sensitizing MPs to the issue, just about sums it up.

To read about the reality of HIV AIDS in Swaziland, click here.