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Friday, 26 February 2021

Coronavirus badly hits Swaziland economy, could take years to recover: Finance Minister

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the Swaziland (eSwatini) economy hard and there is a danger that it will not easily recover over the coming years, Finance Minister Neal Rijkenberg warned in his budget speech.

He told the Swazi Parliament on Friday (26 February 2020) that the ‘widespread effects’ of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the economy had ‘significantly and permanently altered the course’ of the government’s economic plans.

Looking forward, he said, ‘If we do not get the basics right, we will remain in an unsustainable fiscal position and we will see the effects of the pandemic persist over the medium term. This will negatively affect each and every Liswati due to stagnating economic growth, subdued employment creation, lower revenue receipts and higher debt-servicing costs.’

He added, revenues were predicted to decline ‘significantly and steadily over the medium term’. He said, ‘the next three years are going to be even tougher’.

He told Parliament, ‘As we are focusing on growing out of this situation we are in, we need to ensure that government is as effective as possible, doing as much as possible with minimum resources.’

He said, ‘In the domestic economy, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated an economic and fiscal deterioration that was already under way. The lockdowns and weak external demand are expected to have triggered an economic recession in 2020 as economic output is expected to contract by 2.4 percent compared to a growth of 2.2 percent recorded in 2019. The lockdowns effected since mid-March are expected to have impacted domestic demand, particularly manufacturing, tourism, construction and other trade sectors.’


See also

‘Urgent action needed to save lives’ as hunger grips Swaziland

Swaziland coronavirus recovery in jeopardy as purchase of vaccine halted

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Swaziland King was secretly hospitalised with coronavirus

King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), has revealed that he was hospitalised for more than 10 days in January after testing positive for coronavirus.

This was not made public at the time.

In December and January the King took part in the annual Incwala ceremony involving hundreds of people from across Swaziland. It is not reported if he caught the virus at this event. 

The King, speaking at the state opening of  the Swazi Parliament on Friday (19 February 2021), said he had taken a drug sent to him by Taiwan and recovered. Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi later revealed to the eSwatini Observer it had been Remdezvir.

The King said he did not reveal his status to his people and said after ‘a couple of days’ he found that he was negative.

‘However, the protocol of the drug requires that you take it for 10 days while the practise for COVID-19 (coronavirus) says, be on medication for two weeks. I therefore, remained in hospital after the 10 days to satisfy the doctors that everything was okay, and we thank God they found that I had fully recovered,” he said.

He has now ordered the government to immediately procure the drug while Swaziland awaits the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

Remdezvir is one of the drugs US President Donald Trump took when he tested positive in October 2020.

Later, the World Health Organisation said it should not be used in hospitals because there was no evidence it worked.


See also

Swaziland Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini dies after testing positive for coronavirus

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Swaziland King admits kingdom fails to be a First World nation

King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland (eSwatini), has admitted his poverty-stricken kingdom will not attain ‘First World’ status by 2022. He had been claiming this was possible for many years.

The King in a speech opening the Swazi Parliament on Friday (19 February 2021) blamed the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic for the failure.

He said, ‘We are now in 2021 and there are no clear signs, as yet, that we are going to make much progress without eliminating COVID-19. There are, however, positive signs that it is being brought under control.

‘Since we earmarked the year 2022 as the year to attain first world status, it is clear that we are not going to reach this target. We hope it will not take us too long to get back on track and attain it.’

In fact, Swaziland was never “on track” to achieve First World status.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Swaziland issued a report in 2014 that received no publicity in the kingdom at the time, that said if Swaziland were to achieve First World status it would have to be ‘among high human development countries like Norway, Australia, United States, Netherlands and Germany to name a few’.

UNDP went on to give these statistics comparing Swaziland with Norway, the United States and Germany.

Life expectancy: Swaziland (48.9 years); Norway (81.3); United States (78.7); Germany (80.6).

Mean average years of schooling: Swaziland (7.1); Norway (12.6); United States (13.3); Germany (12.2).

Percentage of population with at least secondary school education: Swaziland (48); Norway (95.2); United States (94.5); Germany (96.6).

The UNDP was not alone in this. In 2012 a report published by 24/7 Wall St in the United States, and based on data from the World Bank, identified Swaziland as the fifth poorest country in the entire world.

It said 69 percent of King Mswati’s 1.3 million subjects lived in poverty.

Its report stated, ‘[T]he country’s workforce is largely concentrated in subsistence agriculture, even though the country faces serious concerns about overgrazing and soil depletion. While these factors harm the nation’s economy, health concerns are likely one of the major factors preventing Swaziland’s population from escaping poverty.’

In 2017, the global charity Oxfam named Swaziland as the most unequal country in the world in a report called Starting With People, a human economy approach to inclusive growth in Africa that detailed the differences in countries between the top most earners and those at the bottom. The Oxfam report stated the government, which is handpicked by King Mswati, ‘failed to put measures in place to tackle inequality, with poor scores for social spending and progressive taxation, and a poor record on labour rights’.

Richard Rooney

See also

‘Urgent action needed to save lives’ as hunger grips Swaziland

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

‘Urgent action needed to save lives’ as hunger grips Swaziland

Nearly one in three of the Swaziland (eSwatini) population require ‘urgent humanitarian assistance’ as they experience ‘high levels of acute food insecurity’, according to an analysis just released.

This amounts to about 347,000 people.

Urgent action is required to save lives and livelihoods of populations, according to the IPC Acute Food Insecurity Analysis covering January to September 2021. It said the problem was made worse by measures to control coronavirus (COVID-19), high commodity prices and erratic rainfall.

It said the loss of jobs due to the pandemic led to a loss and/or reduction of income, which meant people could not afford to buy food.

It added, ‘The unusually high commodity prices further restricted food access and exacerbated the already compromised food availability in the poorest households, further heightening their poverty levels.

In the Manzini urban area which includes Swaziland’s main commercial city about 20 percent of the population 26,336 people) were estimated to be facing high levels of acute food insecurity.

The Manzini urban area mainly consists of people dependent on employment, therefore, the impact of COVID-19 on households in this region has had a great impact on sources of income and livelihoods,’ the report stated.

The closure of a number of industries as a result of lockdown measures to try and curb the spread of the virus resulted in job losses in the region.

The region hosts the majority of industrial area in the country, and loss of employment has had a bigger impact on the people’s livelihoods. High food prices and an increase in other basic commodities have put a strain on households with lost or reduced employment, pushing more into vulnerability to acute food insecurity.

It said the increase in the number of deaths ‘will impact more households, especially with the deaths of breadwinners and spending on health during this period.

It said there was some hope in the future and the number facing high acute food insecurity across Swaziland will likely fall to 209,000 after crops are harvested.


See also

One in three people in Swaziland in urgent need of food, Deputy PM reports

No let up on hunger in Swaziland – World Food Programme

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Swaziland coronavirus recovery in jeopardy as purchase of vaccine halted

Swaziland’s coronavirus recovery strategy has been derailed after Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi announced the tiny kingdom would no longer use the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Only last week she announced the vaccine would play the major tole in the first phase of the recovery plan for kingdom (also known as eSwatini).

Swaziland, which borders South Africa, was due to receive AstraZeneca doses from the COVAX Facility, the global vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

South Africa has stopped the rollout of AstraZeneca shots, after researchers published preliminary data showing the vaccine was less effective against the new variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) that is spreading in southern Africa.

The eSwatini Observer newspaper reported close to 90 percent of coronavirus cases in South Africa have the variant.

Nkosi told state television on Tuesday (9 February 2021) the Swazi Government would consider getting doses from Pfizer or any other supplier endorsed by the WHO.

Swaziland had expected to receive 108,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of February. Frontline healthcare workers would have been the first to get the vaccine.

As of Tuesday 16,288 people had tested positive for coronavirus and 610 had died, according to Ministry of Health figures.

See also

Slow roll out of coronavirus vaccines in Swaziland, health workers to get priority

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Swaziland gripped by human rights abuses, annual report states

Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association grip Swaziland (eSwatini), according to the latest annual report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Reviewing the year 2020, the group said, ‘On October 20, the eSwatini High Court heard a challenge from eSwatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM) against the eSwatini Registrar of Companies’ refusal to register ESGM as a company. 

ESGM is a human rights community-based advocacy organization working to advance the protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in the kingdom of Eswatini. The registrar argued that ESGM could not be registered as a company because “ESGM’s objectives were unlawful because same-sex sexual acts are illegal in the country.” 

‘ESGM responded by arguing that eSwatini’s constitutional rights apply to everyone, that everyone in the kingdom has a right to their dignity, and that freedom to associate should not be denied based on arbitrary grounds, including one’s sexual orientation. At time of writing, the court had yet to issue its ruling.’

King Mswati III continues to rule as an absolute monarch and political parties remain banned from taking part in elections and he has held supreme executive power over parliament and the judiciary since the1973 State of Emergency decree.

HRW reported, ‘The country’s courts have upheld the legality of the decree despite the fact that the 2005 constitution provides for three separate organs of state—the executive, legislature and judiciary. The prime minister theoretically holds executive authority, but in reality, the king exercises supreme executive power and controls the judiciary. The 2005 constitution provides for equality before the law while simultaneously elevating the king above the law.  

In 2020, Reporters Without Borders ranked eSwatini 141 out of 180 countries on media freedom, based partly on constraints that journalists face in working freely under the absolute monarchy, and because courts are not permitted to prosecute representatives of the monarchy.  

In June 2020, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published results of an annual survey indicating that Swaziland has one of the worst workers’ rights records in the world. Swaziland scored five on the Global Rights Index—five being worst on the scale—capturing its failure to respect workers’ rights and the fact that Swazi workers are exposed to repression and unfair labour practices. According to the ITUC, countries with the five rating provide no guarantees for rights and are among the worst countries in the world in which to work.   

See also

No let-up in restrictions of freedom of association and assembly in Swaziland: Human Rights Watch


Monday, 8 February 2021

Cyclone Eloise hits Swaziland leaving six deaths and devastation in its wake

Six people were killed and more than 2,000 others were affected by Tropical Cyclone Eloise when it hit Swaziland (eSwatini).

In a report Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku said the cyclone ‘resulted in the devastation of critical infrastructure such as roads and facilities, property, livelihoods, agriculture and the natural environment as well as disruption in the provision of essential services.’

Cyclone Eloise, developed in the Indian Ocean, landed in neighbouring Mozambique and reached Swaziland with above average rainfall but without strong winds.

He reported at least 2,015 people from 500 homes were directly affected by the cyclone. A total of 105 people were displaced and evacuated from their homes to a safer place to stay temporarily. They were provided with food, water and home amenities.

In addition to affected homes, critical infrastructure was damaged such as roads covering at least 775 km and 53 bridges.

Mudslides and rock falls along roads and in some homes were experienced, 66 water pumps and several water reticulation facilities were damaged affecting irrigation capacity and access to potable water in some of the country’s urban areas, including the Swazi capital Mbabane.

Masuku said, ‘Sadly, six people died while attempting to cross flooded rivers. It is clear that the deaths could have been avoided had we all heeded to the alerts and warnings issued by various government departments including the Police, National Disasters Management Agency and the Meteorology department that no attempts should be made to cross flooded rivers.’

He said government would need to reconsider settlement patterns in the kingdom to reduce the risk of future loss of life particularly along river banks.

He said government would assist households without the coping capacity to rebuild their damaged houses.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Slow roll out of coronavirus vaccines in Swaziland, health workers to get priority

Only 3 percent of the Swaziland (eSwatini) population are likely to get coronavirus vaccines in the first phase of inoculations, according to the kingdom’s Minister of Health Lizzie Nkosi.

In a statement she said no firm date for the arrival of the first vaccines had been given but she hoped it would be before the end of February 2021.

There are about 1.2 million people in Swaziland.

Nkosi said frontline healthcare workers would be the first to get the vaccine. It had previously been reported in local media that Swazi politicians would be given first priority.

Phase two would see the elderly aged 60 years and above and people living with pre-existing illnesses. Phase three would be other essential workers outside of the health service, including security forces and teachers.

She said the government had formed several committees to distribute the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and that the AstraZeneca / Oxford University vaccine was its preferred choice, but other vaccines could be imported.

Nkosi said about 108,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were expected in the Kingdom by the end of February. Since two doses are needed that would be enough to only vaccinate 54,000 people.

However, Nkosi said Swaziland would eventually receive more than 230,000 doses through the African Union. The Swazi Government was also looking for ways to obtain vaccines independently.

As of Wednesday (3 February 2021) 15,974 people had tested positive for coronavirus and 585 had died, according to the Ministry of Health.


See also

Swaziland hospitals short of body bags as coronavirus deaths rise


Swaziland paramedics stop work on coronavirus response, say they need more protection


UK emergency team sent to Swaziland as coronavirus deaths continue to rise

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Swaziland hospitals short of body bags as coronavirus deaths rise

Hospitals in Swaziland (eSwatini) have reported a shortage of body bags for corpses because of the number of deaths from coronavirus.

Lubombo Referral Hospital and Good Shepherd Mission Hospital (GSMH) are among the hospitals affected.

Dead bodies are being wrapped in sheet-covers or plastic.

Funeral houses last month also reported a shortage of coffins and problems burying bodies in a timely fashion because of the numbers who have died of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Swazi Ministry of Health Director of Services Dr Vusi Magagula, confirmed the shortage of body bags faced by the hospitals.

GSMH Chief Executive Officer Muzi Dlamini told the Times of eSwatini there had been a shortage of body bags in some sizes from their suppliers.

The number of positive case and deaths from coronavirus in Swaziland has risen sharply in the past two months. As of Tuesday (2 February 2021) there had been 15,878 cases and 583 deaths due to coronavirus, according to official Ministry of Health figures.

See also

Swaziland paramedics stop work on coronavirus response, say they need more protection


UK emergency team sent to Swaziland as coronavirus deaths continue to rise

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Swaziland paramedics stop work on coronavirus response, say they need more protection

Paramedics on the coronavirus emergency response team in Swaziland are to stop work because they do not have proper protective equipment.

They say they face ‘imminent and serious risk to [their] safety and health’.

The National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (NAPSAWU) said work would stop from Wednesday (4 February 2021). Paramedics would report for duty but would not go out on calls.

NAPSAWU President Oscar Nkambule said paramedics had not been paid overtime allowances and had not been given proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

Paramedics are among the first-line responders during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis that is gripping Swaziland.

Nkambule said a number of members of NAPSAWU had contacted or died with coronavirus, including paramedics. 

Nkambule told the Swaziland News, an online newspaper, ‘[We] tried in vain to engage government to provide working equipment and allowances hence the decision to down tools. We apologize to members of the public as services will be limited and it’s unfortunate that the employees were forced to take decision.’

As of Monday there had been 15,804 reported cases of coronavirus and 574 deaths according to the Swazi Ministry of Health.

See also

Exhausted Swaziland coronavirus nurses picket for better conditions and equipment

Swaziland plea to WHO for urgent help as coronavirus deaths out of control

Swaziland coronavirus deaths climb but vaccines might be three months away

Monday, 1 February 2021

UK emergency team sent to Swaziland as coronavirus deaths continue to rise

The United Kingdom has sent an emergency medical team to Swaziland (eSwatini) to support the tiny kingdom as coronavirus deaths continue to rise.

The team of 11 set off on Saturday (30 January 2021).  It will provide urgent training and use specialist expertise to provide clinical supervision to those treating patients critically ill with coronavirus (COVID-19).

A biomedical engineer will also train staff on how to install, use and maintain critical care equipment, and support the distribution of key supplies including oxygen.

As of 27 January 2021, Swaziland had a total of 15,051 COVID-19 cases and 522 people had died from the illness. The country had seen a surge of new cases and fatalities since December 2020, with limited access to testing and treatment for much of the population.

The UK Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, said in a statement, ‘Our UK Emergency Medical Team will save lives by using their world-leading specialist expertise and skills.’

See also

Second Swaziland Cabinet minister dies from coronavirus

Swaziland tightens coronavirus restrictions as daily deaths hit record high

Swaziland plea to WHO for urgent help as coronavirus deaths out of control

Swaziland coronavirus deaths climb but vaccines might be three months away