Swaziland defends hefty party bill

The government of Swaziland, one of Africa’s poorest and most Aids-ridden countries, has defended plans to spend nearly $2,5-million on celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of independence.

Opposition deputies have called for the celebrations, which will also mark King Mswati III’s 40th birthday, to be scrapped or scaled down given that most of the one million population lives on less than $1 a day.

But government press secretary Percy Simelane said that the anniversary on September 6 is an important milestone in the landlocked country’s history and will serve to unite the people.

”Such celebrations are a unifying symbol to the Swazi nation because that gives the ordinary Swazi the chance of celebrating with royalty during such functions. The figure is not an issue,” Simelane said.

Organisers revealed at the weekend they will spend about 20-million emalangeni (about R20-million) on a series of projects, including an upgrade of the Somhlolo National Stadium, which will host the main festivities.

The bill will also cover the cost of an upgrade of the royal suite, Double Celebrations project director Luke Mswane told the Swazi Observer newspaper.

Mswane said a large chunk of the budget will go towards the renting of cars, accommodating the king’s guests and security. ”We are currently looking for sponsors so that we may reduce the money government would spend on the celebrations,” he said.

Opposition lawmaker Sibusiso Nkambune said it is inappropriate to be splashing out when 600 000 people are only surviving on food aid after a period of drought. ”We are facing a lot of challenges so such festivities will dig deep into coffers,” he said.

King Mswati turns 40 on April 19, but he is not planning any formal celebrations on his birthday.

The king, who has 13 wives, is Africa’s last absolute monarch and known for his extravagant lifestyle.

Swaziland, wedged between South Africa and Mozambique, became a British protectorate at the beginning of the 20th century before being granted independence in 1968.

Acccording to United Nations figures, close to 40% of Swazi adults are living with HIV and Aids, the highest infection rate anywhere in the world. — Sapa-AFP

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