There is much for King Mswati to learn from kings and rulers who have experienced worse than what he saw at the end of June when rioters looted shops and burnt down businesses in a call for political reforms. There is a lot that the monarchy has done to rile emaSwati. At least they haven’t as yet called for the downfall of the monarchy, writes NIMROD MABUZA.
In his book; “From Palace to Prison; Inside the Iranian Revolution” Iranian sociologist, Ehsan Naraghi wrote that at the height of the Iranian revolution, the last Shar of Iran, Muhammad Reza Shar Pahlavi summoned him to the royal palace for an analysis on the political situation in that country.
This was in September 1978. The Iranian spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini led the revolution that put an end to the Shar’s reign which was riddled with corruption and nepotism.
The Shar reportedly wanted to know; “Where does this rebellion and spreading agitation originate? Who instigated it? Who is sustaining this process? Who triggered this religious movement?”
Naraghi answered: “You yourself, Majesty.” This prompted a series of talks in which he (Naraghi) was given the opportunity to explain “why he (Shar) was considered an enemy of the people.”
In the eight meetings held during the final days of the Shah’s reign, the then Iranian leader was painted as one “deaf to criticism and blind to reality.”
The Shar had taken control of almost everything in the country, either directly or through trusted family members, and splashing around taxpayers’ money as if there was no tomorrow.
In 1958, Shar had established the Pahlavi Foundation as a tax-exempt charity organisation to hold his assets, his predecessor’s and many of his family members. The Foundation was worth US$3 billion.
The Shah went into exile in February 1979. Naraghi was detained for almost three years at the notorious Evin Prison.
While all this happened over 40 years ago, it is relevant for reflection eSwatini in the aftermath of last month’s events.
Following the looting and burning of infrastructure, the question has to be asked whether Africa’s last absolute monarch has become an enemy of the people, like the Shar of Iran.
King Mswati may well also be asking himself where such anger emanated from.
There are members of the royal family who feel disgruntled about the way King Mswati rules the country.
One senior member once said the problem is that the king now rules the country only with his wives and children.
A frugal man who had lived a simple life, when King Sobhuza II died in 1982, he had set up the kind of systems that allowed of his progeny, including his successor, King Mswati to live the gluttonous lifestyle we see today.
He had set up Tibiyo Taka Ngwane and Tisuka taka Ngwane which have become the main feeding troughs for the royal family.
In the years since his ascent to the throne, King Mswati has emerged as a leader quite different from his father. Where King Sobhuza eschewed conspicuous consumption in a country ravaged by poverty and in desperate need for development, the present monarch has not let the finer things in life pass him by.
While amassing wealth on the trot, King Mswati has amassed a lot of high end personal possession that, if liquidated, could replenish the fiscus in significant ways.
In recent years he has been joined by his children who have no shame flaunting the finer things in life they possess, courtesy of a father with immaculate but very expensive taste. .
King Mswati has become world famous for his lavish lifestyle. At his 50th birthday celebration, he came out dressed in an ensemble laced with diamonds and a wrist watch, the whole ensemble said to be worth about E21 million.
He is among Africa’s 10 richest kings.
All this while more than 70% of his people live in abject poverty and squalor.
Much like how the Shar of Iran lived.
Over the years, the king’s annual budget has increased steadily while ordinary people, particularly public servants, have been told to tighten their belts because money is scarce.
While unemployment has soared and the youth has largely found it difficult to enter the job market, King Mswati and his family have continued to live large, taking expensive overseas holidays and enjoying the best of what the first world has to offer.
In 2000, King Mswati announced the Millennium Projects which turned out to be his vanity projects, among them the Mavuso Trade Centre, an international airport at Sikhuphe which he named after himself, and the International Convention Centre and Five-Star Hotel which continues to drain the fiscus with run away costs.
The country’s education system has all but collapsed. The University of Eswatini, the highest learning institution in the country with international accreditation is breathing from the wound, battling to rub two pennies together.
Around 2002, government began a process to purchase a private jet for King Mswati and paid a deposit of E28 million. However, the project fell through when parliament opposed the idea.
However, in 2012, government announced that an airplane had been acquired for the king. Government went further to acquire a second private jet for the king because, as they explained it, it would be suitable for long distance flights.
In November 2019, at the height of a financial crisis with public servants crying out for a cost of living adjustment, King Mswati took delivery of 13 brand new Rolls Royce vehicles for himself, Indlovukazi and emakhosikati.
It was the height of the gluttony by the monarchy.
In a bid to control the damage caused by the purchase of the vehicles, government claimed the king had used his own funds to buy the cars.
To put a fine point to it, government took delivery of about 100 brand new BMW SUVs and motorcycles as royal escorts.
To prove its contempt for emaSwati, at the height of the public outcry over the royal cars government announced a paltry E20 increase on the monthly social grants for the elderly. Their monthly pay increased from E480 to E500.
Since 2018, King Mswati has moved to appoint his children in senior public positions, their first ever jobs.
His eldest, Princess Sikhanyiso was appointed to the all-powerful portfolio of Minister for Information, Communication and Technology.
When the protests started last month, with rioting and looting, she shut down the internet, a move that has brought shame to the country internationally.
Prince Lindani was appointed head of Economic Affairs in the King’s Office and Prince Sicalo is Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence.
Part of the trigger for the riots last much has been the question of the appointment of a prime minister. This function has always been the exclusive preserve of the king.
The Constitution states that the premier must be appointed from amongst elected members of the House of Assembly. However, this provision has always been ignored.
However, when all is said, all is not lost. The situation could still be saved. EmaSwati have not as yet called for the outright downfall of the monarchy.