News that spread internationally that in Swaziland only King Mswati III should be afforded the honour of a red carpet at special events reminds us of another time the King wanted to assert his superiority over his subjects.
That time, according to a cable from the US Embassy in Swaziland, the King made his advisors sweat in 40-degree heat in a basement to demonstrate his power over them.
The issue of the red carpet emerged when it was reported that the red carpet at the Business Woman of the Year Awards ceremony this year (2015) was rolled away. The same happened at the Swaziland Inter Municipal Games Association (SIGA). The Times of Swaziland, the only independent newspaper in the kingdom, reported that the Swazi Police had ordered SIGA to remove the red carpet. Barnabas Dlamini, the Swazi Prime Minister, was at the event to give a speech.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN), a prodemocracy group banned in the kingdom, then reported the police ordered the ban on the instructions of King Mswati.
Later, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported the Swazi Police spokesperson Superintendent Khulani Mamba saying no police action was ordered. However, he said the red carpet might have been removed as is might be, ‘misconstrued in other quarters as equating himself to the Head of State [King]’.
He added, ‘A well-intended gesture may have unintended consequences and be read totally out of context.’
The Observer reported Mamba saying, ‘[N]o specific individual instructed the cops to remove the red carpet but was feeling of those who were waiting to welcome him that such good gesture may be lost in interpretation, hence the decision to remove it.
“The Prime Minister had not ordered it, nor ordered its removal, but given his stature it was felt that such a gesture may be seen as setting him up against authorities.’
It is not surprising that the Prime Minister or any other of the King’s subjects would not want to upset him.
A cable from the US Embassy in Swaziland, made public by Wikileaks, gave a startling example of how the King behaves.
The US Embassy said King Mswati III was ‘not intellectually well developed’ and ‘is not a reader’. It also called him ‘imbalanced’.
The comments about the Swazi King came from Earl Irvine, the then US Ambassador to Swaziland, in February 2010.
In a confidential cable to Washington released by Wikileaks, Irvine said King Mswati had a ‘lack of wisdom’.
Quoting an informant, Irvine wrote the king was ‘not a reader, and will not review documents left for him’. [The informant] called the king ‘not intellectually well-developed,’ and contrasted the current sovereign’s scant educational background with Sobhuza II, who was educated at Lovedale College in South Africa alongside future leaders of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC).
‘Essentially a bastard outsider to the royal family, King Mswati III was plucked from relative obscurity when members of the royal family could not come to an agreement on a successor to King Sobhuza II,’ the cable said.
‘After Mswati III was selected to be the next king, a posthumous marriage of Sobhuza II to Ntombi [the Queen Mother] was quickly arranged, according to our interlocutor.’
Irvine wrote, ‘Unlike in his early years, the King now identifies and pushes specific projects, and will look to replace ministers or employees who are unable to provide progress on those projects.’
Irvine quoted his informant calling King Mswati ‘imbalanced’. He gave an anecdote to illustrate this. ‘The King, [the informant] said, invited about forty officials and advisors to a basement in one of his palaces, where they all sat on the floor to attend to him. King Mswati III turned up the heater, which warmed the floor first, until the temperature in the room reached about 40 degrees Celsius, and told inconsequential stories to those gathered while they sweated, merely to show them he was in power.’
US FRANK ASSESSMENT OF SWAZI KING