No silver lining for Mswati as storm clouds gather

Africa’s last monarch King Mswati III of Swaziland has cancelled plans for a lavish “silver jubilee” as his kingdom tries to claw its way out of a financial crisis, the government said on Monday.

“The silver jubilee has been postponed indefinitely,” Home Affairs Minister Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze said.

With the crackdown on media in Swaziland there have been few photographs making it out of the country. These images from the ground show the heavy police presence and efforts to crush the teachers and students protests.

Mswati had been expected to host posh celebrations in September to mark the 25th anniversary of his rule, with €1.2-million set aside for the party.

But the plans were scrapped in the face of what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) terms a “serious financial crisis” that has put the tiny nation of 1.2-million people in danger of running out of money to pay civil servants’ salaries.

“The king is very concerned about the economic climate of the country,” the state-controlled Observer Newspaper said.

An IMF delegation met with the Swazi monarch earlier this month during a visit to assess his country’s progress in cutting expenditure and bringing down a soaring deficit that stands at more than 14% of total economic output.

With the IMF still unhappy about Swaziland’s efforts at financial reform, the kingdom is unable to access much-needed international loans.

Mswati drew international scrutiny and public discontent in 2008 when he held his “40-40” celebrations to mark both his 40th birthday and 40 years of Swazi independence.

Riots broke out in the capital Mbabane in response to the lavish festivities after the king splashed out on a fleet of 20 new BMWs for the party.

Mswati, who did not throw his usual birthday bash in April, had been widely expected to celebrate both his birthday and silver jubilee in September.

His change of mind comes as civil servants threaten new protests of the kind that brought Mbabane to a stand-still in March.

In April police used water-cannons and batons to quell demonstrations against the monarch that were organised over the Internet.

Mswati sent his top advisors to meet labour union leaders in April, but refused to grant the unions’ demand for the prime minister and cabinet to be fired over their handling of the country’s finances.

The total cost to taxpayers of supporting King Mswati, his 13 wives and more than 20 children is a closely guarded secret.

But excluding overseas trips and refurbishing palaces, the royal family’s budget allocation this year was €21-million — 20% more than last year. — Sapa-AFP

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