Swaziland’s autocratic King Mswati III has received a private jet worth millions of dollars from “anonymous sponsors,” despite the fact that many of his 1.2 million subjects live in poverty with one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world.
Government spokesperson Percy Simelane told the BBC that the DC-9 twin-engine aircraft is for the use of the king and his 13 wives, and denied allegations by Swaziland’s banned opposition party that taxpayer cash must have been used to buy it.
Forbes magazine ranks Mswati as the world’s 15th richest monarch, enjoying a personal fortune of over $100 million.
He has ruled Swaziland as an absolute monarch since taking over from his father in 1986, and celebrated his 44th birthday earlier this month with a party at which ordinary Swazis were encouraged to donate their own cattle for a mass feast.
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Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini said on state radio Wednesday that the king had received the luxury jet as a gift “from development partners and friends,” but the Swaziland Diaspora Platform, a South Africa-based human rights group, rejected this explanation:
“No development partner would want to be anonymous; by their nature development agenices are transparent. We demand the release of full details of the donor and the value of the jet,” spokeswoman Ntombenhle Khathwane told the Agence France Presse.
Another group, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, said the king had owned the jet for some time, but has been claiming to have chartered it. In 2002, the king reportedly tried to use millions of dollars’ worth of public funds to put down a deposit on a jet, but the sale was halted after street protests and outrage from international donors, The Daily Telegraph reports.
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