Swaziland Holds Celebrations for King’s Birthday, Independence; Advocates Call for Increased Social Spending, Other Reforms
Swaziland on Saturday held celebrations for King Mswati's 40th birthday and the country's 40th year of independence -- an "extravaganza that contrasted sharply with the biting poverty" of the country -- the AP/Chicago Tribune reports. According to the AP/Tribune, 70% of the country lives below the poverty line. In addition, the United Nations estimates that only one in four Swazis can expect to live to age 40, and nearly 40% of adults in the country are HIV-positive -- one of the highest rates in the world. The HIV/AIDS epidemic also has resulted in a large number of AIDS orphans, the AP/Tribune reports.
Mswati said that he is "aware that many in the world might be wondering why we are so excited about the celebrations of our 40th anniversary," adding that the "answer is simple. We are celebrating our nationhood" (Nullis, AP/Chicago Tribune, 9/6). He added that the country is "telling a world full of turbulence that we are a happy nation in spite of the challenges that we may face."
According to Reuters, although many people in the country say Mswati deserves to be honored, the "so-called 40-40 celebrations highlighted growing frustrations" in the country. The $10 million event prompted calls for democratic reform of the absolute monarchy and more social spending, and some protestors stoned shops, looted a market and set off an explosion that damaged a bus (Matsebula, Reuters, 9/6).
AFP/Yahoo! News Examines Life of AIDS Orphans in Swaziland
In related news, AFP/Yahoo! News on Saturday examined the lives of AIDS orphans in Swaziland, who often are left with no money to support themselves.
An antiretroviral drug treatment program was launched in Swaziland in 2003, according to Swaziland Positive Living. There now are 51,000 HIV-positive people across the country receiving antiretrovirals -- only a fraction of the number living with the disease. Cebile Dlamini, spokesperson for the group, said, "Sick people have a difficult time reaching these places, and drugs often run out, resulting in nonadherence, which could cause fatal complications." Dlamini added that children are the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. "There is still a need for a more comprehensive roll-out of treatment. The available drugs are funded by overseas NGOs, and this calls for support from within the country," she said.
The article also profiled a family that lost its parents to HIV/AIDS (Khumalo, AFP/Yahoo! News, 9/6).