Some extracts from The Days of Absolute Monarchy are Numbered Swaziland's $200 Million Dollar Despot, by Michael Marqusee, published in Counterpoint. To read the full article click here.
Now presiding over the 37th year of the world’s longest running State of Emergency, King Mswati III controls the parliament, appoints cabinet ministers, judges and senior civil servants and makes and breaks the law at will. Political parties are banned, along with most demonstrations and meetings. Shouting the wrong slogan or wearing the wrong tee shirt can get you locked up as a “terrorist”. Trades unionists and human rights activists face surveillance, house searches, arbitrary detention and torture. Strikes are illegal. Gatherings of any kind are often broken up by police assaults. The media is subject to constant harassment and intimidation. During the latest wave of repression, in May , democracy activist Sipho Jele, who had been arrested and interrogated, was allegedly “found” by police hanging from the rafters in a prison toilet.
While 70 per cent of the population live on less than a dollar a day and 25 per cent rely on food aid, the royal family makes do on some $67,000 a day. According to Forbes magazine Mswati’s personal net worth is an estimated $200 million, making him the 15th richest monarch in the world, not far behind Queen Elizabeth II, ranked 13, whose UK domain alone generates a GDP 365 times larger than Swaziland’s.
Six in ten Swazis are engaged in subsistence farming, mostly on communal land owned in trust by the King, whose family also directly own a major share of the remaining “privately-owned” land. Forced labor is commonplace. Under Swazi Administration Order No. 6 of 1998, it is a duty of Swazis to obey orders from local chiefs to participate in compulsory works (which may include construction and agricultural labour or even weeding the gardens in Mswati’s palaces). There are severe penalties for those who refuse.