Swazi king demands cows from poor subjects

Mbabane - Swazi King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, has ordered his impoverished subjects to give him cows for his birthday celebrations this month, the home affairs minister said on Monday.

Chiefs from the Shiselweni region, where the celebrations will be held, will have to canvas their subjects for cattle to be slaughtered for the king, who turns 44 on April 19, Prince Gcokoma said.

"Chiefs from the Shiselweni, as hosts, are expected to provide cattle to be slaughtered on the day," Gcokoma told AFP.

"They are fully aware of the fundamental role they're expected to play as they are the ones who will be hosting the king on his memorable day."

Gcokoma said the country's precarious finances meant the government did not have enough in the budget to pay for the event, which was cancelled last year due to the crippling fiscal crisis that has left the kingdom struggling to pay wages.

But the government this year has nonetheless pledged to make a contribution toward the R5m budgeted for the celebrations.

Mswati is rated by Forbes magazine as among the world's 15 richest monarchs, with a personal fortune of more than $100m. He has 13 wives, each with their own palace.

But 60% of his subjects live on less than two dollars a day in one of the world's poorest countries, which is bordered on three sides by South Africa.

Swaziland's banned opposition party Pudemo has demanded that the kingdom cancel the birthday party.

"We call for the celebrations to be cancelled and the resources channelled to the provision of scholarships for deprived students," party spokesperson Zakhele Mabuza said.

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