Mswati's wives prepare to jet off to Las Vegas
In the week that Swaziland's King Mswati III urged his subjects against the 'love of money' during a religious sermon, it has emerged that three of his wives will make up a royal delegation of 66 people who are flying by chartered jet for a holiday in the US gambling mecca Las Vegas.
The Mail & Guardian has confirmed from several sources that the group will be made up of three of King Mswati III's 13 wives, LaNgangaza née Carol Dlamini, LaMagongo née Nontsetselo Magongo and LaNkambule née Phindile Nkambule, some of their children and domestic support.
Funding for the multimillion-rand trip is, according to one source within royal circles, being supplemented by money from the national fund Tibiyo. A "large sum of cash" is understood to have been withdrawn recently.
According to the South-African based Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) the royal group is expected to stay in 10 separate villas – each costing R20 000 per night, although the M&G has been unable to confirm this.
Africa's last absolute monarch, Mswati III, currently on an official visit to Namibia, was this week reported to have delivered a religious sermon warning his subjects against the love of money.
"God warned the Swazi people not to love money and today I want us to remember what God said to the Swazi people," he said, according to the Times of Swaziland.
News of the lavish trip comes as Swaziland enters its fifth week of a teachers' strike which has descended into a bitter standoff between labour and government over calls for a 4.5% pay hike.
Army on standby
Civil servants, nurses and other workers have backed the strike which has seen public services, including schools and hospitals, affected due to a lack of personnel.
The government has responded by declaring the action illegal and trying to use the country's industrial court to force people back to work, saying those who continue to strike will lose their jobs.
There are reports that the army has been put on standby to control the demonstrators, a number of whom have already been injured by rubber bullets shot by riot police attempting to close down protests in the main towns of Mbabane and Manzini.
Although nurses returned to work at the weekend, teachers and civil servants resolved to continue picketing.
Vincent Dlamini, general secretary of the National Public Service and Allied Workers Union (Napsawu), told the M&G that leaders from the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (Tucoswa) were due to meet government on Friday morning to try to negotiate a settlement, but otherwise the strike continued, he said.
Describing the news of the Las Vegas trip as "insensitive" and "arrogant", Dlamini said: "This just shows the utter disdain that the royal family has for the people of Swaziland, that they can go on an expensive and indulgent trip like this when the country is on strike demanding better living and working conditions.
"There are people languishing in poverty, not knowing where their next meal is coming from because their wages are being withheld during the strike and yet these people spend all this money on a shopping trip."
'Sad day for Swaziland'
He added: "This is sheer arrogance and is more proof than ever that we need democracy in Swaziland to be able stop this abuse of public funds. As it is we are living in a dictatorship and the king is an absolute monarch and his family is allowed to do as they please."
Former royal adviser Mandla Hlatshwayo, who now lives in exile in South Africa, added: "This is a sad day for Swaziland when people in power have become so insensitive as to be totally blind to the plight of their people.
"Sometimes it sends cold shivers down your neck when you hear things like this.
"How do people not realise they are trampling on the lives of so many people?" he said.
King Mswati's family is well-known for its lavish lifestyle and his wives for their extravagant shopping sprees, often to Dubai and Europe.
In June the monarch took a large delegation to London where he attended the Queen's silver jubilee celebrations and in April it emerged that Mswati had acquired a private jet worth as much as R150-milion.
The government claimed it had been gifted to the British boarding school educated king by a "development partner" and not been purchased from taxpayers' funds.