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Bahamian Pastor Laps Up Luxury With Corrupt Swazi King

King Mswati III with Myles Munroe

I was dismayed by a documentary on what felt like self-glorification, featuring a local pastor who recently travelled to the Kingdom of Swaziland where he was feted in royal style and hosted by that country’s political elite.

Conspicuously absent from the televised self-promotion were details of the challenges of the people of Swaziland who live in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, essentially a dictatorship under the rule of King Mswati III. Is the pastor now a friend, associate or counselor of the King and his undemocratic government?

King Mswati III is seen at home and abroad as a corrupt autocrat living an opulent lifestyle while the people of his country suffer under dire economic circumstances. He is a polygamist with fourteen wives, one of the last of whom he married when she was 17 and he was 33.

The reports on the King’s lavish lifestyle in a nation that is financially bankrupt are alarming. In 2009 Forbes Magazine reported his wealth at $200 million dollars. He has numerous palaces and was criticised over the purchase of a $500,000 Daimler Chrysler vehicle. It is estimated that Swazilanders live on US$2 a day and that unemployment may be near 40 per cent.

In the television extravaganza, King Mswati III and the Bahamian pastor seemed to bask in the warm glow and delight of each other’s company. Photos of their time together can also be seen online including on Facebook.

Speaking more broadly, it is essential in travelling to various countries that religious figures are careful not to be seen as appeasers, court jesters or sidekicks to the pharaohs and autocrats of the world.

For example, religious leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others have been careful how they present themselves on trips to countries with particularly troubling human rights records. Indeed, they often use their travels to highlight these abuses, which they publicly challenge and confront head on in private.

In its 2012 report on Swaziland, the well-regarded Human Rights Watch noted the following:

“The Kingdom of Swaziland, ruled by King Mswati III since 1986, is in the midst of a serious crisis of governance. Years of extravagant expenditure by the royal family, fiscal indiscipline, and government corruption have left the country on the brink of economic disaster.”

The report noted:

“The government has intensified restrictions on freedom of association and assembly in the past few years. The Swazi constitution guarantees these rights, but the provisions protecting these rights have been undermined by clauses that permit restrictions by the state. Authorities have also restricted political participation and banned political parties.

“Permission to hold political gatherings are often denied, and police routinely disperse and arrest peaceful demonstrators. On September 7, police beat and injured several students in Mbabane as they attempted to deliver a petition to the minister of labour and social security.”

The report stated:

“Police harassment and surveillance of civil society organizations increased in 2011. Political activists were arrested, detained, and tried under security legislation. They have also faced common law charges such as treason.

“Civil society activists and government critics have reported increased incidents of harassment, searches, and seizures of office materials, as well as monitoring of electronic communications, telephone calls, and meetings by the authorities. Police and other security officials routinely use excessive force against political activists. Local activists reported that police often use torture and other ill-treatment against activists with impunity.”

The report also stated:

“Journalists and the media face continued threats and attacks by the authorities. Self-censorship in media is widespread. Publishing criticism of the ruling party is banned. On July 12, police stormed the offices of the Times newspaper and served the editor with a court order to stop publishing any articles related to the chief justice. A high court later rescinded the order after finding no basis for it.

“The government has passed draconian security legislation such as the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act, which severely curtails the enjoyment of freedom of expression, among other rights, and allows for extensive imprisonment without the option of a fine if one is found guilty. The act has been used to harass activists and conduct searches of their homes and offices.”

The Bahamian pastor facilitated training sessions for cabinet members and scores of officials. One hopes that he raised with them the kinds of issues Archbishop Tutu and various religious leaders would have raised. The pastor indicated that he is slated to return to Swaziland next year for a national assembly in the national stadium. One hopes that in the spirit of St. Paul that he speaks truth to power.

The test of Christian leadership and discipleship is to so preach truth to powers and principalities that one risks not being invited back to dine at pharaoh’s table and sit in the lap of his luxury, especially when he refuses to set his captive people free.

A Christian Bahamian

Posted in Opinions

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