Swazi king woos investors with culture

2012-09-11 07:53

Manzini - Swaziland is poor in resources, so King Mswati III is courting investors with his kingdom's vast cultural traditions as he tries to lift the nation out of an economic crisis.

Every year the nation's international trade fair coincides with the famous reed dance, a massive showcase of local culture in which tens of thousands of young women swarm across the kingdom to dance bare-breasted in beaded mini-skirts and colourful pompoms for the king at his royal palace.

"Since independence [in 1968], the trade fair and reed dance take place at the same time, so when businessmen are coming, they can also refresh by watching this explosive colourful cultural cocktail," one observer noted.

This year was no exception, with culture mixed into business and politics as is the custom in Swaziland, one of the only African countries whose royal family predates English colonisation.

Founded in 1750, the continent's last absolute monarchy prides itself on its preservation of customs.

"It's definitely an advantage because people admire that we use our culture to market ourselves," trade minister Jabulile Mashwama explained to AFP.

Swaziland was a strategic island of peace until 1990, when investors preferred the tiny mountain kingdom to war-torn Mozambique and the apartheid system in South Africa.

Lately though it has become harder to keep investors on board, while a 60% loss of revenues from a regional customs union in 2011 put a big dent in the economy.

Mswati enjoys a 25% shareholding in major business deals in his kingdom's economy through numerous royal development trusts, a scheme originally aimed at developing the country.

Business talks

But media across the border in neighbouring powerhouse South Africa criticise the initiative as a conduit for the king to access wealth for his personal use.

"Without investors the desired development will not be achieved," the king said repeatedly in his opening speech at the event - part business expo, fun-fair - which closed on Monday.

Noted for his expensive taste in Western consumer items while many of his subjects wallow in poverty, the king nevertheless doesn't hesitate to play the tradition card.

The British-educated monarch spoke in Swazi, with translation for the foreign guests.

As an appetiser to business talks meanwhile, the 140 exhibitors were again treated to exquisite local dances, with a finale of frenetic eulogies in Swazi by traditional praise singers decked in Angora goat skin vests and leggings.

And the king himself arrived not in suit and tie, but traditional regalia: a customary print fabric tied at the shoulder and another wrapped around his waist, and a crown of three feathers.

These red plumes, symbols of royalty, feature in a brand new logo to promote Swaziland in foreign countries.

Organisers were pleased with nine foreign exhibitors, especially the number of prospective Asian investors. First-timer Sri Lanka considered agriculture projects, much like Taiwan.

Official business

Investors can now also start a company over the internet and the application process for work visas has been streamlined.

Historically the king is present in all official business through two trusts started at independence by his father, late king Sobhuza II.

These trusts hold shares in all of the country's sugar and mining resources, real estate and services sectors.

The young monarch is one of the richest royals in the world, with a personal fortune of about $100m, according to Forbes magazine.

Critics say the royal house is dragging down the country, and accuse the 44-year-old Mswati of treating the country's economy as a private piggy bank.

  • nicolaas.geldenhuys - 2012-09-11 08:26

    They're not gonna invest until you stop taking everything for yourself you twat.

      gerhard.muller.988 - 2012-09-11 08:43

      Of course they will come and invest. Show a couple of boobies and the rest of the world will be flocking to invest. Makes sense. In Swaziland it's called culture, in the rest of the world it is known as soft porn.

      alan.jerrold - 2012-09-11 10:03

      King Mswati is obviously keeping 'abreast' of the times, using porn to swell his filthy rich coffers.

  • themba.ntuli - 2012-09-11 08:32

    -Since independence [in 1968], the trade fair and reed dance take place at the same time,so when businessmen are coming,they can also refresh by watching this explosive colourful cultural cocktail,- chics baring their ti*s in the. public openly is culture?.this makes me sick how can people so be so low??...what else is our culture? Killing? raping? Stealing?

  • richard.zanner - 2012-09-11 08:42

    Show me a country in Africa that is not in crisis. Even this King is taking 25% for himself. Unless this mentality changes Africa is doomed to be a continent of slaves for the West.

  • sekalf.nroc - 2012-09-11 08:44

    Reed -dance? One of the largest sex parties for black and asian (Chinese) business leaders - and a chance to bonk a virgin - and smoke some Swazi!

      Stormkaap - 2012-09-11 10:29

      My thoughts exactly...

  • brendon.nel.7 - 2012-09-11 09:03

    The swazi people seem to be a lot happier than our bunch here. And I'm willing to bet that even if u gave em the vote they will still vote for the king. Rather woo the tourists with swazi.

  • Johann Enslin - 2012-09-11 09:32

    So basically he is a pimp?

      Michael - 2012-09-11 13:16

      or pomp (not the English variety)

  • dnxumalo2 - 2012-09-11 10:44

    I love this guy..and I love the system.

      hamish.drake1 - 2012-09-11 12:12

      And apparently share a brain

      dnxumalo2 - 2012-09-11 13:16

      hamish.drake1 -And apparently share a brain answer is yes we do.African like me and traditional like me.

      desertratbkf - 2012-09-11 13:24

      Its 2012......get over yourselves!

  • jacqui.daanevanrensburg - 2012-09-11 12:30

    He won't need to touch his personal wealth. Uncle Jacob will gladly lend him the money.

  • desertratbkf - 2012-09-11 13:23

    Ah they're all the same! Filthy takers. The lot of them! No difference here!

  • juannepierre - 2012-09-11 14:17

    I remember a time I needed to get investors into my business so my mom and sister danced around in grass skirts with their tits hanging out while I banged a drum... It's the smartest thing we have ever done, prove just how 'traditional' and native we really are. Thanks to the silly white man my business is now flourishing.

  • Khosi Chamane - 2012-09-12 18:42

    king Swati just needs to b dethroned.

  • pages:
  • 1