God will bring down the rains

Swaziland PUDEMO (2) 176Climate change has brought on a severe drought in the small absolute monarchy of Swaziland. The solution to the crisis is literally to pray for rain, says the country’s absolute monarch. No, we need a democratic government that does not treat its people as enemies, says a young activist.

In Swaziland, where two thirds of Swaziland’s population survives on less than a dollar a day, a lengthy drought has caused an extreme lack of water, subsequent falling crop yields and the death of thousands of cattle in Swaziland’s rural areas. People in the rural areas could starve to death if urgent action is not taken, two local researchers recently stated in the American Journal of Agriculture and Forestry.

In response to the increasingly precarious situation, Swaziland’s absolute monarch King Mswati III, who is one of the wealthiest monarchs in the world, said in a speech held on Saturday that the country does not need an irrigation system. “We have our irrigation system coming straight from God … God will bring down the rains to water your fields”, Mswati claimed.

An insult to the poor
A young Swazi activist whom I shall call Sibusiso says he was very dismayed when he learnt of the king’s speech. He wishes to remain anonymous because he fears reprisals in a country where freedom of expression is “severely restricted in practice” and dissenters and demonstrators “routinely face violence and arrests by police”, according to Freedom House.

“Mswati is saying all this at the height of a drought that has hit thousands of subsistence farmers in the rural areas who rely on erratic rainfall as the only source of water for their crops and animals. Most of these farmers have lost their livestock due to lack of rainfall. A sizeable number of Swazi rural farmers have not ploughed their fields because of the persistent drought”, says Sibusiso, who has himself grown up in the rural areas.

It is clear from the speech that the king clearly has no compassion for, or understanding of, Swaziland’s many poor, he says.

“I have spent my life in the rural areas where we would break our backs working hard in the fields and taking care of our livestock to make sure we had enough to eat. We did all this without any assistance from the government. These rural farmers and their families are nothing more than cheap labour in the eyes of the king and his chiefs. They are even expected from time to time to provide manual labour for them even though they are themselves struggling”.

When the people awaken from their slumber
The solution to the crisis, says Sibusiso, is thus not only food aid or a more compassionate absolute monarch, but a truly democratic government that does not treat its people as enemies.

“A government that is visionless, as this one is, cannot lead us anywhere, except to a perpetual cycle of poverty and underdevelopment. Mswati continues to celebrate the wealth that he has amassed from depriving the ordinary people a decent life, a decent education, food, health and the right to own land. But when the people awaken from their slumber and say enough is enough and demand what rightfully belongs to them it shall be too late for him to redeem himself. The party shall be over soon”, says Sibusiso.

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