Advocates in Swaziland Call for Democratic Reforms, Social Spending To Address Issues Such as HIV/AIDS
About 1,000 people in the Swazi city of Manzini held a protest on Wednesday, calling for democratic reforms and increased social spending to address issues such as HIV/AIDS in the country, Reuters Africa reports. The protesters were critical of what is anticipated to be an expensive celebration over the weekend for the 40th birthday of King Mswati, which coincides with the country's 40th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom. Mswati has "courted controversy for his lavish lifestyle" while two-thirds of people in the country live in poverty and 40% of adults live with HIV/AIDS, according to Reuters Africa (Matsebula, Reuters Africa, 9/4).
More than 1,500 women, many of whom are HIV-positive, last month protested against a foreign shopping trip taken by eight of Mswati's 13 wives in what appeared to be the first demonstration in the country by HIV-positive people questioning how money should be spent. Swaziland is facing shortages of medicines, including antiretroviral drugs. The protest was organized by Positive Living, a nongovernmental organization that aims to help women living with HIV (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/25)."What is it we are celebrating?" Phille Mlotshwa, who helped organize last month's protest, asked, adding, "Is it the world's highest AIDS rate? The collapse of the health and education system? What are we showing the world that we have achieved?" (Nullis, AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/4).
"There's nothing to celebrate," Mario Masuku -- leader of the Peoples Democratic Movement, a banned political party in Swaziland -- said, adding that independence from the United Kingdom was "merely a transfer of power from the colonial rulers to traditional autocracy. The king's resistance to allow democratic change and his super-extravagant lifestyle has taken the country back by decades" (AFP/Moneybiz.com, 9/4). According to Reuters Africa, groups seeking democratic reforms have become more active in Swaziland, and parliamentary elections are scheduled for Sept. 19.
"We are also calling upon government to stop romanticizing corruption but find lasting and effective strategy in dealing with corruption," Jan Sithole, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, said during the protest in Manzini. Sithole added, "Remember, silence means consent with the status quo. This system of government has failed dismally to be responsible to the concerns of the ordinary Swazi citizens and the electorate. Change can only come when civil society and the suffering majority stand up to be counted against such injustice" (Reuters Africa, 9/4).