Swaziland: The Crisis Continues: 5 August 2011

In May 2011 I was asked by the Royal African Society (RAS)2 to prepare a short commentary on the current political situation in Swaziland. There had been an increase in attention towards the country with news of protests and economic decline. The analysis was intended to stimulate discussion on whether political reform was likely.

At the end of July, I spent a few days in the Kingdom. The primary reason was to attend a Governing Council Meeting at Waterford Kamhlaba School but I also took the opportunity to meet with a number of people outside this community. I spent time with the National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS (NERCHA) and presented an update on recent events, including the IAS Pathogenesis Conference.

We were briefed on the Swazi economy; the political situation; and the rule of law. On the basis of all of these meetings, and other observations, I am reporting on the situation. It does not make happy reading. If I were in the prediction business then I would say in the next six months the crisis will reach its peak.

The Economy

The economy is in dire straits and the country is bankrupt. Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund suggested the government declare a ‘fiscal state of emergency’ and offered support subject to Swaziland following a road map of measures. This would have included laying off staff and reducing government expenditure. The government declined to do this. There was a view that the country would not meet its July 2011 salary bill but it has in fact done so. The civil service and security forces are now under pressure to take cuts in pay.

The country has seen a 60% fall in revenue, primarily because the South African Customs Union (SACU) payments have dropped (SACU members are Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland). This was not a surprise. The government, international agencies, donor community and Swaziland watchers have been aware of this expected fall for many years. See for example our brief and longer article on our website. Brief at: www.heard.org.za/downloads/health-expenditure-implications-of-sacus-revenue-volatility-in-blns-countries-issue-brief.pdf.

In early August the King went to South Africa, cap in hand, asking for emergency funding. The country has received R2.4 billion. South Africa has put conditions in place for better fiscal governance (but there are few on democratization, this has caused great unhappiness among South African unions and others). This loan is a stopgap. Until such time as there is good economic governance there will no new investment in the country. At best the economy will slowly contract, with debt rising steadily.


Swaziland is the last absolute monarchy in Africa. King Mswati III seems oblivious to pressures to reform; the suffering of his people; and does not understand basic economics. Quite how the country operates politically is unclear, even to informed Swazis. It is a nepotistic, autocratic, kleptocracy where the ruling elite treat the national treasury as their own personal bank. The election system of tinkundla is Byzantine and impenetrable. Although there were constitutional reforms in 2006, political opposition remains banned. Nonetheless there are a growing number of protests and the trade unions – possibly with help from across the border – are flexing their muscles.

The Legal Situation

There is a crisis of law and the independence of the judiciary is under threat. Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi was appointed as Chief Justice by King Mswati. He is from Lesotho and also sits on the appeal court in Botswana. He issued an order preventing anyone from “directly or indirectly” suing the King. He then suspended High Court Judge Thomas Masuku. In a case filed recently with the Judicial Service Commission, the Law Society accused Ramodibedi of sexual harassment. The Judicial Services Commission banned Swazi press from publishing details of the complaint.

There is an excellent source on Swaziland at: http://swazilandcommentary.blogspot.com.

What Does this Mean for HIV/AIDS?

Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV prevalence. In the last ante-natal clinic survey 42% of women tested were HIV-positive. The 2006 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that 26% of all Swazis between 15 and 49 years were infected; among men prevalence was 20% and among women 31%. Overall HIV population prevalence was 18.8% across the nation meaning about 200 000 Swazis are infected. The response, coordinated by NERCHA, ironically is one of the country’s few success stories.

NERCHA was created through an Act of Parliament, in 2001 under the Prime Minister’s office. It is charged with coordinating and facilitating the HIV/AIDS response and implementation of the national strategic plan. Its main sources of funding are government and the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and it acts as a conduit. The second major source of funding in the country is the US government. PEPFAR provided $38 million in the 2011 financial year.

The exceptional measurable progress is that approximately 70% of those who should be on anti-retroviral therapy are receiving the drugs. This is 65 000 of 84 000 people and therapy is administered at the 350 or lower CD4 cell count level which is extremely impressive. There has been great success in the area of prevention of mother to child transmission. Approximately 97% of women visit the ante-natal clinics, and 85% of those who need drugs are started on therapy. Prevention has been slow to show results. There is a major programme of medical male circumcision with over 30 000 men circumcised in the last three years. Various other initiatives are also in place.


The lack of government money means that NERCHA’s funding is under threat. They asked for E63 million3 for the April 2011 to March 2012 financial year. They were allocated E47 million (about E4 million per month). For the four-month period ending 31 July 2011 they have only received E4 million of the E16 million allocated. There is no indication as to when, or indeed if they will get the next subvention.

Swaziland was unsuccessful in its last Global Fund bid. Globally there are concerns about US funding. The US House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee Bill would cut 9% from current global health funding levels and 18% from President Obama’s FY2012 budget request. It is not clear how this will operationalise in Swaziland.

The Ministry of Health is charged with implementation but government is creaking and it is unclear as to how sustainable the response will be.


As early as 1993 we were warning of the potential social and economic consequences of this epidemic for Swaziland. While it has taken longer than anticipated, the AIDS epidemic in combination with the failure of governance and economic contraction means Swaziland faces a bleak future. Ironically the glimmer of hope is in the response to HIV and AIDS where civil society is powerful and the receipt and disbursement of outside funding is efficient and honest.

1Alan Whiteside grew up in Swaziland and maintains close links with the country. He has written extensively about Swaziland, and is working on a book The Political Economy of Swaziland intended for publication in early 2012
2The RAS undertakes research, analysis and host lectures and meetings of African interest. Its website with commentary is African Arguments
3The Swazi Currency the Emalangeni (sing. Lilangeni) is on a par with the Rand, and Swaziland is in a Common Monetary area with South Africa.

Prime Circle: Easter 2011

This posting could be entitled ‘Pregnancy, Prime Circle, and Team Building’ as these are the three dominant themes of the past couple of weeks. Most of the Easter weekend has been spent working. I have finally emerged from a mass of administration and planning to resume writing my Swaziland book. ‘A Political Economy of Swaziland’ is what I have optimistically titled it. I am over half way through now and do need to get it to the publishers since it is at least 18 months late. But I have really enjoyed working on it. Swaziland is such an interesting and usual little country, and at the moment, there is a degree of political change which is exciting.

I went to Swaziland for a few days at the beginning of April. Apart from doing some additional book research this was to attend the first Waterford Governing Council (GC) meeting of the year. I have been on the GC since 1994 so have some institutional memory! In 2008, for the first time, since I joined, the GC was faced with having to make a decision around pregnancy. One of the female students, from a poor area, had fallen pregnant. We decided, probably wrongly, that the main concern was the baby. I say wrongly because as Governors our prime concern should always be the well-being of the school. We took a decision that the girl should be sent down for a year, but could return at the end of this. She did and is now a scholarship student at an internationally known university. Having set policy, the Headmaster then took the same decision in 2010 when he was faced with a second pregnancy. The same outcome was reported, the student is back at school and doing well.

At this GC we had a variation on the theme. A pregnant female student, but the father acknowledging his paternity, is also at the school. A policy decision had to be taken. What was most interesting for me is that while we can make a broad policy, we cannot cover every eventuality. What if the girl says she was made pregnant by a male student, but he refuses to acknowledge this? Given that he would face sanction this probably makes sense for him. Do we carry out a paternity test? What do we do if the girl says she was raped? It is clear that while there are in many instances there have to be rules, flexibility is necessary. Of course in other cases there should be no leniency, for example the school has a zero tolerance rule when it comes to drugs.

Back in Durban I have been very busy with work but found time to go to two gallery openings, one at theKwaZulu Natal Art Society Gallery. The main exhibitor was a botanical artist which I do not find terribly exciting. The second at Durban ArtSpace is a very unusual gallery in an industrial area of town next to the railway line.This was entitled wo.man and was way over my head. Most interesting though, I did not know a single person there although I did recognize one, he had been at the KZNA opening. Perhaps this is a little sad!

Cultural activities continued when I went to listen to ‘Prime Circle’ a South African band who described themselves as South Africa’s leading rock band http://www.primecircle.co.za This was at the Gateway shopping Center about 35 km from my flat. I find I drive slowly along the motorway, trying to treat the car with love and respect. It is after all nearly 20 years old now, bought new and registered in 1992. However as it has only done 130,000 km I think it is good for a few more years yet.

We have been looking at ways of building the HEARD staff into a more cohesive unit. Much as I hate the term, ‘team building’ is a good idea. So last Thursday we headed off for a team building experience. The decision was taken to go to cooking school for a half day. Fusion is not very far from our campus in Westville see and they have a great restaurant in Durban We were divided into three teams, and set to the task of cooking Thai style chicken breasts stuffed with various herbs and spices. For the vegetarians stuffed mushrooms were the option.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each cooking station was allocated a student, described as a ‘cooking fairy’ to assist us. It was quite an experience. The key learning for me was that you need equipment and enthusiasm. The desert was banana pancakes skewers lightly brushed with a reduction of sugar and flavorings, including vanilla, and rolled in grated chocolate. A good time was had by all, and certainly I feel less intimidated by the thought of cooking now. To be fair the bulk of the work was done by one or two people on the team.

I am amused to look at my browser and see that I have two websites open one for Fusion and one a classic article by Sidney Kark on the ‘Social Pathology of Syphilis’ published in 1949. It identifies migration as one of the major drivers of sexually transmitted diseases in southern Africa.

This week I have twice been reminded of how nice it is to be fit and young, although it is possible to be young and not fit. I played squash with Jeremy Grest and his son Adam, who is in his early 20’s. Adam gets round the court without stopping, it was only guile that allowed me to win points and he beat me! On Sunday evening I went for a long run (in time rather than distance). Two of the children from the flats were playing by the gate.

“Are you going for a run”, asked one.
“Yes”, I replied.
“My brother has just gone”, he said. This brother being a lean lad of about 14.
“I’ll try to catch up with him”, I responded as I started my standard slow plod.
“He was running much faster than that”, said the boy disdainfully.

I ran up past St Augustine’s hospital to Ridge Road, and then down the bottom of the Pigeon Valley nature reserve. The monkey troop that live there were raiding across the street and looked at me with disbelief. From there to the Howard college campus, then back along what was Manning, and is now Lena Ahren’s, Road. It was the magical hour when the sun has a particular evening tint, and Durban was stunning. Interesting up the hill, security gets tighter, and the dogs bigger, more numerous and louder.


Men who stare at Goats, we bought a DVD of this film a while ago. It was seriously damaged and so unwatchable, but this only became apparent about 40 minutes into it. I hired the DVD the other night and so have finally seen it. I really enjoyed it. It is just about credible that people could behave in this bizarre way in the interests of … what? It is the story of reporter in Iraq who meets Lyn Cassaday who claims he was part of the New Earth Army who employ paranormal powers. George Clooney stars and there is no love interest!