King Mswati III of Swaziland ignored appeals from diplomats and activists who objected to him sending his wives on a holiday to Orlando, US, with more than 100 people.
The cost of the holiday is the same as the total amount of the US’s contribution for Swaziland’s drought relief aid – close to R16 million.
The vacation has also irritated diplomats, who are motivating for more drought relief aid for the country, which is in the grips of the worst drought in 18 years.
The entourage, consisting of the queens, bodyguards, protocol officers, family and other “support personnel”, left for Orlando last Saturday.
According to Unicef, the UN’s emergency humanitarian fund for children, more than 350 000 Swazis have been affected by the drought.
While there is no rain forecast until March next year, at least 64 000 cattle are dead or have been put down.
Last month, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) called on the international community to donate R35.5 billion in drought relief aid to the region.
Swaziland is one of the worst hit countries in the region because of its poor population.
The SADC has asked for assistance in supplying about 1.6 million tons of maize and other aid. The US is already spending about R750 million on HIV programmes in Swaziland.
According to diplomatic sources, meetings were held with the king, where objections to the holiday were raised.
Mswati’s defence was that the vacation had been planned and paid for in advance, and that a cancellation would result in an unnecessary loss of money.
This is not the first time that Mswati’s wives have come under fire. In 2012, three of the women flew to Las Vegas with a following of 55 for a gambling vacation.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network reported at the time that the cost of that trip was even more than the current “economical” trip.
Meanwhile, Mswati is waiting for the delivery of his “new” jet with enough room for his 13 wives, children and their minders, cooks and bodyguards.
The aircraft, an Airbus A340-300 that previously belonged to China Airlines in Taiwan, also has a big enough range to fly to Taiwan without stopping for fuel.