Swazi royals opt for bling and a big party against a backdrop of hunger and …

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Women in the tiny mountainous kingdom of Swaziland have been demonstrating over the weekend in protest against a shopping tour undertaken by eight of the ruling monarch’s 13 wives after they chartered a flight to Europe and the Middle East.

Reports from there say eight wives, children, maids and bodyguards left the impoverished kingdom last week to shop for the “40-40” double celebrations to mark independence from Britain and King Mswati III’s birthday on September 6.

Mugabe is one of 13 Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders invited to attend the day of royal festivities that would gobble close to US$6,5-million.

The queens have to look radiant and that is why they went to buy quality items for the big day.

Angered by what they consider excess largesse, the women marched to the government offices in Mbabane. The Women’s Coalition of Swaziland and Swaziland Positive Living organized it.

Ntombi Nkosi, the coalition’s spokeswoman asked how funds could be spent on a shopping trip when Swaziland, which has the world’s highest HIV prevalence rate, faced shortages of medicines including anti-Aids drugs. “We are against the idea of public funds being used in a questionable way by people who are not employed and (who) do not bring any revenue to the country’s coffers” she is quoted as saying.

More than 1 500 mostly HIV-positive women staged an unprecedented demonstration march. But Jim Gama, the governor of Ludzidzini, the Swazi traditional capital, said a march by women was “un-Swazi”. “I have never heard of women marching … All I know is that a woman has to seek permission from her husband to register her disagreement with whatever was happening in society but not for her to march. That is un-Swazi.”

Close to 40% of adults in the landlocked Southern African nation are living with HIV and Aids, the highest infection rate anywhere in the world, according to United Nations figures.

Mario Masuku the leader of Swaziland’s opposition said “I believe that the money could have been used into improving of the standard of living of the people of Swaziland. Currently, there are people who are suffering from the drought, people who are unemployed the money could have gone into improvement of the health facilities, the money could have gone into the improvement of the education standards of Swaziland. We believe that the king if he wanted a birthday for himself, he could have done so from his own resources, but not from the people’s taxes,” he said.

Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and is known for its annual Reed Dance celebrations in which thousands of bare-breasted young women dance in front of the royal family.

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