“Regime change” pressure mounts on Swaziland


South Africa has told Swaziland it will only agree to a financial bailout of its tiny landlocked neighbour if it brings the curtain down on Africa’s last absolute monarchy, said Swazi dissidents.

Pretoria has confirmed that King Mswati III is seeking an emergency cash lifeline, but the underground Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said Africa’s biggest economy would only cough up if Mswati allowed the return of democratic rule.
“The response by the South African government to this desperate plea by the king was to tie stringent conditions, which included the unbanning of political parties and the formation of a transition government which will lead the country to democratic elections,” it said in a statement.

The SSN says Swaziland, which turned to South Africa after getting little joy from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), wants 10 billion rand (US$1.5 billion) in aid, although South African officials said that figure was probably too high, Reuters reports.

They also declined to discuss the terms of any potential bailout.

However, it is inconceivable that the African National Congress will write a blank cheque to a country that has served as a long-running diplomatic and political headache right on its doorstep.

South Africa’s powerful COSATU union federation said any aid to Mswati, who has at least a dozen wives and an estimated personal fortune of $200 million, should be granted only in the interests of democracy.
“It is the ruling Swazi regime that plunged the whole country into the mess it is facing,” it said in a statement.
“Any consideration of a bailout must be linked to the demand for a new and democratic government, as well articulated by the people of Swaziland.”

A nation of 1.4 million people, Swaziland is in the depths of a severe fiscal crisis triggered by a sharp decline in receipts from a regional customs union that has normally provided it with two-thirds of its revenue.

Last month, the IMF put its budget deficit at 14.3 percent of GDP — close to the proportion in Greece — but made clear it would not provide any aid unless the government took the carving knife to what is officially Africa’s most bloated bureaucracy.

The budget crunch and prospect of a major civil service overhaul has sparked rare protests against Mswati, whose security forces have responded with water cannon, rubber bullets and the arrest of prominent students and activists.

So far, the government has kept its head above water by eating into central bank reserves and running up at least $180 million in unpaid bills, although there are doubts about its ability to pay public sector salaries in the next few weeks.

Calls on Friday to Swaziland’s main government spokesman went unanswered.