The comments about the Swazi King came from Earl Irvine in February 2010, when he was the US Ambassador to Swaziland.
In a confidential cable to Washington released by Wikileaks, Irvine said King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, had a ‘lack of wisdom’.
Quoting an informant, Irvine wrote the king was ‘not a reader, and would not review documents left for him. [The informant] called the king ‘not intellectually well-developed,’ and contrasted his poor educational background with his father Sobhuza II, who was educated at Lovedale College in South Africa alongside future leaders of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC).
Irvine wrote, ‘Essentially a bastard outsider to the royal family, King Mswati III was plucked from relative obscurity when members of the royal family could not come to an agreement on a successor to King Sobhuza II.
‘After Mswati III was selected to be the next king, a posthumous marriage of Sobhuza II to Ntombi [the Queen Mother] was quickly arranged, according to our interlocutor.’
Irvine wrote, ‘Unlike in his early years, the king now identifies and pushes specific projects, and will look to replace ministers or employees who are unable to provide progress on those projects.’
Irvine quoted his informant calling King Mswati ‘imbalanced’. He gave an anecdote to illustrate this. ‘The king, [the informant] said, invited about 40 officials and advisors to a basement in one of his palaces, where they all sat on the floor to attend to him. King Mswati III turned up the heater, which warmed the floor first, until the temperature in the room reached about 40 degrees Celsius, and told inconsequential stories to those gathered while they sweated, merely to show them he was in power.’
Irvine also reported that the king’s mother had a sexual affair with Lutfo Dlamini, Swaziland’s former Foreign Minister.
And the Queen Mother Ntombi’s ‘associations with men’ had undermined the power she had to influence King Mswati’s decision-making.
Irvine called the cable he wrote to Washington ‘Witchcraft and More: A Portrait of Influences on King Mswati III’.
In the cable Irvine said, ‘traditional leaders, superstition, and members of the royal family’ were the major influences on the king. His ministers, however, ‘remain his servants’.
Irvine wrote, ‘The king’s wives’ opinions matter to the king, especially his third wife, LaMbikisa, who has an advanced degree and is the only wife to whom the king proposed.’
Irvine goes on, ‘King Mswati III believes in muti (traditional medicine used to cast spells or curses), and attempts to use muti to attack the king are taken seriously’.
He wrote, ‘In 1989 Prince Mfana Sibili was accused of high treason when he allegedly used muti to try to take away the king’s powers. When a foreign judge, brought in to hear the case, dismissed it after hearing the charges, a traditional court was installed to convict the prince.’
He said that ‘muti people’ hold great sway within the royal family, and that the king must eat and drink whatever they give him during traditional ceremonies, particularly when in seclusion. ‘If they are unhappy with the direction the king is taking the country, then the king has cause to worry.’
Irvine went on ‘Although Queen Mother Ntombi is considered by many observers to be a powerful figure within the royal family, [name of informant] indicated that her authority has been undermined by her “associations with men,” including the then Foreign Minister Lutfo Dlamini.
Irvine wrote, ‘Mswati III uses the investment company African Alliance to move his money around internationally.’
The informant indicated that ‘the king has become more decisive during his years in office, especially where his interests are at issue, and he views ministers and officials who tell him he cannot do something as cowards’.
Swazi Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini is the king’s loyal ‘hangman,’ Irvine wrote, an assertion that suggests that the king placed absolute trust in Barnabas.
‘Instead of looking to influence the king, the Prime Minister acts as the king's steadfast servant, a relationship that dates back to a suicide attempt by Barnabas in 1990 or 1991.
‘According to [informants] in an unsuccessful attempt kept secret from the public, Barnabas tried to commit suicide after his involvement in a corruption scandal during his tenure as Minister of Finance became known.
‘As part of making amends to the king, Barnabas reportedly prostrated himself before the king, giving himself over as the king’s servant.’