Swazi queens on lavish holiday while drought cripples country
18 July 2016, 16:04
Florida - At least three of King Mswati III of Swaziland's wives were on holiday in Orlando, Florida last week – with an entourage of more than 100, Netwerk24 reported.
The cost of this holiday was equivalent to the drought relief that the US was currently providing to the drought-stricken country - R14 million.
The queens, their bodyguards, protocol officials, family and other "support staff" left for Orlando last Saturday and were to return on Sunday.
Swazi citizens and foreign diplomats struggling to motivate for more drought relief were furious.
The country was experiencing its worst drought in 18 years.
According to Unicef, more than 350 000 Swazis were affected by the drought, while more than 64 000 head of cattle had died or were put down and no rain was expected before next March.
Diplomatic sources said several meetings were held with Mswati to raise concerns about the queens' holiday, but the king maintained that the holiday was planned long before the drought and cancellation would have led to unnecessary losses.
The Swazi government originally applied for a visa for 60 people, but the number grew to 100 while many other "guests" joined in at their own cost.
Mswati's wives have been in trouble before due to their international shopping trips.
In 2012 three of them and an entourage of 55 went to Las Vegas on a gambling holiday. The Swaziland Solidarity Network reported that the trip cost R28 million.
During an official visit to Taiwan, a Swazi ally, in May, Mswati travelled with a party of over a hundred.
The queen mother Ntombi left for Taiwan for "medical treatment" shortly after her son’s return, also with a party of more than a hundred people.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) recently asked the international community for R33.5 billion in drought relief for the region.
Swazilandwas one of the worst-hit countries due to the extreme poverty of its inhabitants. In some areas, all livestock either died or were slaughtered due to loss of pastures.
The US government made R700 000 available in March through the emergency aid agency USAid to get water to communities in the Lubombo region. USAid pledged another R36 million and the United Natuons made R36 million available.
Lisa Peterson, the US ambassador to Swaziland, said in response to the queens’ vacation that the US had limited funds available for drought relief.
"When we hear of the lavish spending by the Swazi royal family – especially while a third of their citizens need food aid – it becomes difficult to encourage out government to make more emergency aid available. You can’t expect international donors to give more money to the citizens of Swaziland than their own leaders give them."
Mswati's spokesperson Percy Simelane did not respond to questions about the trip.