King Mswati III, born Makhosetive on 19 April 1968 to Ingwenyama yemaSwati and one of his youngest wives Ntfombi Tfwala, has fled the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
According to the Communist Party of eSwatini, the ostentatious ruler fled to Johannesburg amid pro-democracy protests that have been sweeping across the tiny kingdom over the last couple of days.
The demonstrations have led to setting ablaze of shops in Matsapha which apparently belong to the king.
“It was discovered that the special jet for King Mswati left around 10.30 pm last night but we have discovered that had left earlier. He’s been hiding in Johannesburg, in the Sandton area,” said Thokozane Kunene.
An unknown number of protesters have sustained injuries while others have lost their lives.
Rule and Politics
Mswati III is best known for his practice of polygyny – an accepted form of polygamy, entailing the marriage of a man with several women. He currently has 15 wives.
He came to power in 1986 at the age of 18, making him the youngest reigning monarch and head of state at the time.
While he restored the country’s Parliament, King Mswati is known to rule with an iron fist. He has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and other traditional posts but with advise from the queen mother.
In 2004, Mswati promulgated a new constitution that allows freedom of speech and assembly for the media and public, while retaining the traditional Tinkhundla system.
The Tinkhundla is an administrative subdivision smaller than a district but larger than an umphakatsi “chiefdom”.
He has, however, been criticized over human rights violations, indiscipline, corruption and lavish lifestyle. Mswati III has been accused of using excessive force to control masses and has been said to resort to extrajudicial killings along with arbitrary arrests, detentions, and unwarranted searches and seizures of homes and property.
In 2019, police raided the homes of opposition party leaders and activists sparking protests in eSwatini – formerly known as Swaziland.
In eSwatini, political parties are banned from participating in elections organized by the Elections and Boundaries Commission — the only institution mandated to organize official polls in the southern African kingdom.
There is no legal avenue for parties to register and participate in elections, though some political associations exist without legal recognition like the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) and Swazi Democratic Party (SWADEPA).
His administration is also said to blatantly discriminate against dissenting groups, restricted freedom of speech, assembly and association, and harassment of activists and journalists.
For instance, security agencies allegedly closely monitor personal communications, social media, and public gatherings, and criticism of the king.
Under revisions to the Public Order Act passed in 2017, any criticism of Swazi culture and traditions or defacement of national symbols—including the king’s image—can draw fines and up to two years in prison.
In August 2020, the government published a draft cybercrime bill that would penalize the dissemination of purportedly false news with heavy fines or imprisonment of up to 10 years. In December, the government introduced a social media bill which remained under consideration at year’s end.
The LGBT community, activists have also been targeted. With little intervention from the courts, King Mswati III has been said to kidnap women for marriage.
In addition, in 2000 he allegedly called for a parliamentary meeting to debate if HIV-positive people should be “sterilized and branded”.
According to Amnesty International, the King had an 18-year-old girl, Zena Mahlangu, kidnapped from school in October 2002.
Her mother, Lindiwe Dlamini, learned that her daughter had been taken by two men. Upon reporting the matter to the police, Dlamini found that her child had been taken to the royal village and was being prepared for marriage.
With no action being taken by the courts, the girl became the King’s wife in 2010.
“The king and his agents have violated the internationally recognized human rights of women and girls, including their right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right not to be subjected to forced marriage,” said Amnesty International.
King Mswati III is a flamboyant ruler in a country where a majority of the people live on less than $1.25 per day.
In the 2014, for example, parliament allocated $61 million (Ksh6 billion) for the King’s annual household budget. Following criticism of his purchase of luxury cars, including a DaimlerChrysler’s flagship Maybach 62 luxury automobile, he banned the photography of his vehicles.
The monarch appeared on Forbes 2009 list of World’s 15 Richest Royals where he was reportedly worth a whopping $200 million, a figure he has since disputed.
Mswati has a personal stake in a large portion of Eswatini’s economy, a contributing factor to its below-average economic growth.