Swaziland’s leaders must stop eating all the grass


When King Mswati III, our reigning monarch, celebrated his 50th birthday last month, he was apparently wearing a diamond encrusted watch worth an incredible $1.6-million (R20-million) and, in the evening at the garden party, a suit dripping with diamonds.

During the celebrations at Mavuso Trade Centre, his private jets flew over in a show of opulence never seen in our history as a people.

Freedom of expression is frowned upon in this country. But, when do we as emaSwati start to ask the pertinent questions when such conspicuous consumption is seen to outweigh the needs of the greater population?

The economy of this country has gone to the dogs, at its lowest ebb since independence 50 years ago. How does this state of affairs balance with what we are seeing right before our eyes?

Our monarchy exists because we, the people, exist. It exists for the singular responsibility to look after our interests and make our lives better. It is the bond that keeps us together and it ensures that, every day, we become a better people.

Right now our lives are in a mess. Day in and day out, companies are either closing or face imminent closure because government cannot pay suppliers. It hasn’t been able to for years now. Government has reached a point of stealing money meant to feed children as maintenance to finance this opulence we see around us.

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As if what we are seeing with our king and his many wives is not enough, the Prime Minister, Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, is about to get a gift from government with the construction of a multi-million emalangeni mansion. Why?

At a time when this country is in the doldrums, why is it that our leaders are suddenly getting wealthy beyond measure?

There is a story said to have been told by King Sobhuza II about greed. Apparently he was chastising a politician whom he suspected of corruption. He first asked the man, who was quite overweight, how he could be so big and still be a leader in a country so impoverished?

He said the way this man looked it was not dissimilar to asking a herd boy to go and look after your cattle in the drought stricken Lowveld. When, one day, you decide to check on your cattle, you find that they are skinny almost to death while the herd boy looks fat and well fed.

The wise king asked: “Why wouldn’t I accuse you of eating the grass and depriving my cattle of much needed food?”

In the Kingdom of eSwatini today, our leaders are eating the grass! They have cut bales upon bales of hay and are having a sumptuous meal while telling us to shut up and ask no questions. This crass materialism is scandalous. This can’t be right.

I have often wondered why there is such desperation in the leadership of this country to shut us down from asking questions about our own country. Remember, we are not visitors eSwatini. We are not settlers either. Kuketfu la! (This is home).

The reason is simple: it is because our leaders have become so used to taking from us that they can’t extricate themselves from this frenzy. They then say we are disrespectful when we cry in hunger.

In his recently published book, the prime minister bemoans the fact that his successive governments have failed to attract any serious investment despite his best efforts, going as far as reducing taxes to ridiculous levels. When I read that chapter, I realised that this old man had completely lost touch with reality. Does he believe, with all his worldly experience, that reducing taxes is the only thing that will bring investors to this country in a competitive region such as southern Africa?

During a post budget speech discussion earlier this year at Zulwini, hosted by the Central Bank of Swaziland, Andrew le Roux from the Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce warned government that business was getting impatient with the way this country was being run.

It is difficult to see when our leadership finds time to govern when all they discuss is expensive watches, airplanes and mansions.

Le Roux pointed out the obvious, that at this time when South Africa has a new president and Zimbabwe had gone through regime change, our government needed to get its act together to compete.

The prime minister writes in his book as if this country does not live in a community of nations, competing with others for attention in a highly competitive world. Yet, this same man is being rewarded by the people of Swaziland with a massive mansion he is highly unlikely to ever live in.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

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There is a school of thought within the leadership of this country that says whatever problems we might have as a country; at least we can agree that the country will not shut down like a business would when it failed. What kind of thinking is this? Get outta here!

If this is the level we have stooped to in our discourse, then to hell with this.

Take me back to jail. At least there I will have more stimulating conversations with thieves, murderers and rapists. It’s far better than this nonsense.

Bheki Makhubu is the editor of the Nation magazine. He was imprisoned for 15 months, along with human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, in 2014 for writing an article criticising Swaziland’s chief justice. 

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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