Coca-Cola urged to abandon Swaziland’s King Mswati III

Swaziland pro-democracy activists have called on Coca-Cola – a major investor in the country – to withdraw its support for King Mswati III.

Activist Lucky Lukehele told the BBC there was no difference between King Mswati’s government and the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

Coke moved to Swaziland in 1987 after sanctions were imposed on South Africa.

The multinational says it does not get involved in the politics of any country where it does business.

Some reports suggest that Coke accounts for some 40% of income in Swaziland, which is suffering from a financial crisis.

‘Dustbin of history’

Mr Lukhele, from the Swaziland Solidarity Network, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that Coke and other big companies should start supporting the pro-democracy movement.

“Either you join the people or you remain on the side of the king [in which case] your future will be in the dustbin of history,” he said.

But he said he was not calling for Coke to pull out of Swaziland, where it has its biggest operation in Africa.

King Mswati, who has 13 wives, is Africa’s only absolute monarch and has banned political parties.

Coke says that the king does not receive any dividends or profits from the company and that the country enjoys many benefits from its presence.

However, Mr Lukhele said Coke showed its support for the king recently by taking out full-page adverts in state-owned newspapers to wish him a happy birthday.

He is widely accused of profligate spending, but cancelled his silver jubilee celebrations last year because of Swaziland’s cash crisis.

Swaziland has so far refused to accept a $355m (£218m) loan from South Africa to help it pay bills, after Pretoria demanded political and economic reforms.

The government says its financial crisis has been caused by the global economic crisis and a sharp decline in the landlocked kingdom’s income from the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), following a new tariff deal.

There have been fears that state hospitals could run out of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) because of a lack of money to buy them.

Swaziland, with a population of 1.2 million, has one of the highest HIV/Aids rates in the world. About 230,000 people are HIV-positive, of whom 65,000 depend on state hospitals to give them free ARVs.

The economic crisis has sparked protests against King Mswati’s rule, but analysts say the monarchy still commands the respect of most traditional Swazis.



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