Swaziland has received a R2.4-billion ($350-million) loan from neighbouring South Africa, a desperately needed lifeline for the crisis-hit kingdom, reports said on Wednesday.
The reports said King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, made the announcement as the country faced the prospect of running out of antiretroviral drugs and having public schools close down amid a fiscal crisis that has seen the government nearly run out of cash.
“We are thankful” to South Africa, Mswati said at a palace briefing late on Tuesday.
“This shows that they are good neighbours. We hope that the financial assistance we have received will assist in alleviating the country from the fiscal problems,” he added, according to the independent Times of Swaziland daily newspaper.
The king sought to deflect accusations of financial mismanagement, saying Swaziland was “not the only country faced with fiscal crisis, but the world over”.
‘Not a gift, but a loan’
“But it must be stressed that this is not a gift but a loan, which naturally should be repaid. This is why every Swazi must play his or her role by working hard wherever he is to ensure that the country gets back to its feet the soonest,” he said, according to the royal-owned Observer newspaper.
Mswati did not say whether South Africa had attached conditions to the loan.
Swazi activists had called on Pretoria to make any bailout conditional on democratic reforms in the tiny kingdom, where political parties have been banned since 1973.
South Africa’s foreign ministry planned to release a statement on the loan later on Wednesday, a spokesperson said.
The loan — about one-fourth the amount the kingdom had originally requested, according to reports — came after a series of private meetings between Mswati and South African President Jacob Zuma.
Swaziland has been battling to stay solvent after losing 60% of its revenues from a regional customs union, the government’s main source of income, last year.
The government froze public-sector salaries and asked unions to accept pay cuts, leading to mass protests that were violently put down by security forces. – AFP