News / Africa

Swaziland King Faces Growing Unrest

King of Swaziland Mswati III (Front) and one of his 13 wives disembark from a plane after arriving at Katunayake International airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 13, 2012. (Reuters)King of Swaziland Mswati III (Front) and one of his 13 wives disembark from a plane after arriving at Katunayake International airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 13, 2012. (Reuters)
x
King of Swaziland Mswati III (Front) and one of his 13 wives disembark from a plane after arriving at Katunayake International airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 13, 2012. (Reuters)
King of Swaziland Mswati III (Front) and one of his 13 wives disembark from a plane after arriving at Katunayake International airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 13, 2012. (Reuters)
Growing protests have rocked the Kingdom of Swaziland recently. The protests are being led by young people, who say they want democracy for their country.  

Facing a packed crowd of protesters, Swazi student leader Maxwell Dlamini gave another speech to the cheers of the crowd. It is one of the many protests that have taken place over past months in Swaziland. Students and teachers have been protesting new education measures, though Dlamini said the grievances are wider.

“These protests are not an isolation of a critical demand, which is a constitutional multiparty democracy in Swaziland," said Dlamini.

Seeking democracy

Swaziland is a small kingdom land-locked by South Africa and has been ruled by King Mswati III since 1986. It is Africa’s last absolute monarchy with the king holding all powers. It also is one of the poorest countries in the world, where 40 percent of the population is unemployed, more than 70% live under the poverty line and one out of four people are HIV positive.

Dlamini said the key to development in Swaziland is democratization.

“The bigger problems that are in Swaziland can actually be addressed by a democratic government which will allow each and every citizen to actually participate in the decision-making processes of the country," said Dlamini. "Those governments have to pursue policies that will benefit the majority of the country, unlike the current system which actually perpetrates corruption and nepotism. It serves the interest of the monarchy and their friends, while the majority of the people are left out of the processes of development and empowerment.”

Outrage over indulgences

Anger has been growing for years in Swaziland over what is seen by many as the King's extravagant lifestyle. He has more than a dozen wives, holds an annual dance of tens of thousands of bare-breasted virgins from which he can select another wife, and has a personal fortune estimated at about $100 million.

Political parties and activists are routinely arrested. Earlier this year, as another protest was being put down, Mswati asked international donors to help contribute to his birthday celebrations. He also asked his subjects to donate cows to contribute to the feast - further angering many.  

Rhoda Mdzingase Mkhabela comes out slowly of the shack where she lives with her family before collapsing on a branch outside, due to exhaustion. The 74-year-old is tired. She said her living conditions have worsened her already fragile health.

She said she was expelled a few months ago from her concrete house on land she owns, where she had been living for the last 60 years, in what appears to be a government development deal.

She survives today with $33 given to her every three month by the government. The money has to support her and a grandchild.  

She said she does not trust the current government, sees nothing positive in Swaziland and would leave the country if she could.
Activists say property rights in Swaziland benefit the wealthy and powerful.  

VOA's efforts to contact the Swazi government on its policies and popular discontent went unanswered and the Ministry of Information refused to take calls.

Traditional stranglehold

Noel Kututwa, Southern Africa director for Amnesty International, said recent protests have done little to loosen Mswati's hold on power.   

"It is very difficult to assess the extent in which the king to be in power and continue to have the absolute and the firm grip, but it is correct to say that the government is still in control," said Kututwa. "The government is still brutally repressing any protest or any uprising, and they are using force to make sure that the Swazi people remain silent. "

Kututwa said he believes this might change, though, as civil society begins to act despite threats.  

“What has changed has probably been the fact that the civil society has become more organized. There are more and more protests, networks outside Swaziland. And Swazi civil society is also working with other civil societies in Southern Africa to bring attention to the human right issues within the country," he said. "Their lobbying is becoming more targeted, they are being able to raise issues on Swaziland and each time something happens in the country, that is being reported, and the international community is taking attention.”
 
It remains unclear whether that growing activism among civil society organizations will have any effect on the situation in Swaziland. A few weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund released a report stating the country was in serious financial trouble. The IMF recommended reforms - especially land reform and cutting heavy spending on the security forces. In an angry response, Swaziland's government called the report wrong and pessimistic saying it would only discourage efforts at reform.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid