Maize crops have failed this year because of a drought that has hit southern Africa. Figures released in July 2015 suggest that as many as a quarter of the Kingdom’s 1.3 million population are now malnourished.
This week some members of the Swazi House of Assembly threatened to stop attending parliamentary sessions until the government acted and delivered food to hungry people in Swaziland’s rural areas.
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom where media censorship is heavy, reported on Tuesday (25 August 2015) that Nhlambeni MP Frans Dlamini told parliament that, ‘as legislators, they no longer had any ideas on how to rescue the hungry people and wondered why government had stopped the food distributions.
‘“What happened to the food aid and what should we do so that government sees it fit to conduct food distributions? I do not know if we should leave Parliament and only return once the food has been distributed,” the Times reported Dlamini saying.
The Times reported MPs were told that trucks to ferry food were not available.
A few days earlier the Swazi Parliament agreed to purchase a jet for King Mswati. His present jet, a MacDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet (also known as MD87), which cost about US$17 million in 2012 is considered to be too small for the monarch to use.
The new jet, which will be purchased on a lease-to-buy contract, might eventually cost as much as US$30 million.
In Swaziland, political parties are banned from contesting elections and King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, appoints the government. The King leads a lavish lifestyle with at least 14 wives, 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars.
Last week it was reported in a newspaper in Botswana, that Prince Majaha, King Mswati’s 23-year-old son, had a watch stolen that was worth US$40,000, the equivalent of 55 years of income for seven in ten of the King’s subjects, who earn less than US$2 per day.
King Mswati’s government has a poor record in helping hungry Swazi people.
In May 2013, international media reported that starving people in Swaziland were being denied food by the government because it was punishing the kingdom’s members of parliament for passing a vote of no confidence against it.
Food intended to feed destitute families, especially those headed by single women with children, had been deliberately left to rot in government warehouses, they said. One Swazi newspaper said, ‘[T]here could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people.’
The international news agency IRIN reported the problem was being blamed on ‘bad blood’ between members of parliament (MPs) and members of King Mswati III’s cabinet. This was after the House of Assembly passed a no-confidence vote in October 2012 against Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini, who is both a relative and appointee of the king. The no-confidence vote was later reversed.
The Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, in an editorial comment said, ‘[T]here could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people’.
IRIN reported, ‘Although the country has institutions resembling those in democracies, Swaziland's parliamentarians do not enact legislation; rather, they approve policies of the king’s appointed cabinet.
‘But MPs are still responsible to their constituents - voter registration began a few days ago for this year’s scheduled elections, although a poll date has yet to be announced. Political parties remain banned.
‘Some observers believe the disruption of food supplies was meant as a lesson for the MPs.
‘Aaron Simelane, a Swaziland-based political commentator, told IRIN, “MPs are considered community development agents by the people who vote ... Swazis want their MPs to bring roads, jobs and aid to their communities, but MPs have no power to do any of these things. [The] cabinet has this power.
‘“The people do not know this, and when things aren’t done they blame MPs, who promise to deliver this and that to get elected. By withholding food aid, [the] cabinet is teaching MPs a lesson about power.”’
Local media in Swaziland reported that ‘hundreds of 50kg bags of beans, mealie-meal and boxes of cooking oil’ had been left to rot at the government central warehouse in Matsapha.
IRIN said the spoiled food included, ‘15,000kg of the staple maize meal, 25,000kg of beans and 600 cartons of vegetable oil.’
The Swazi Observer in an editorial comment stated, ‘[T]ons of donated staples like maize, beans and cooking oil were deliberately being allowed to rot at a government granary in Matsapha, while starving people had to contend with the pangs of hunger out there.
‘We may be forced to agree with the honourables [members of parliament], who are now claiming there could be a deliberate ploy at cabinet to systematically starve the people and obliterate them from the face of their army worm-ravaged areas.’
The Observer went on to say, ‘Or much sinister still, it is to alienate the present crop of MPs from their constituents, so they cannot be voted back to parliament, if that was to happen.
‘Are the hungry people being used to hit back at the MPs for their still-born vote of no confidence last year? When things happen in this manner, one starts to believe even the most far-fetched theories, which is why government should avoid such embarrassing situations at all costs.’