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Swaziland activists in S.Africa to press for loan conditions

The leader of Swaziland’s banned opposition party said Thursday that South Africa should refuse the kingdom’s bailout request until King Mswati III commits to democratic reforms.

“Before any bailout is done, we need a commitment from the head of state to institute reforms,” said Mario Masuku, leader of the People’s United Democratic Movement (Pudemo).

“The economic crisis runs deep and is central to the monarch,” said Masuku, who is part of a team of activists in South Africa to lobby the government to impose conditions on the $1.4 billion (1 billion euros) loan sought by Africa’s last absolute monarch.

They want Mswati to allow political parties and release political prisoners, among other reforms.

The delegation includes labour leaders and organised business. They sent President Jacob Zuma a letter outlining their proposals, and are due to meet with the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions.

Last month Mswati asked South Africa for a loan, after being rejected by international lenders who insisted on economic reforms for Swaziland to qualify for credit.

Swaziland has been struggling to pay the salaries of civil servants, prompting a rare series of protests by workers.

The 42-year-old king who has 13 wives is often accused of bankrupting the state coffers to support his extravagant lifestyle.

Swaziland’s fiscal crisis was brought on by a 60 percent drop last year in revenues from a regional customs union, the government’s main source of income.

A new formula in how revenues are distributed saw Swaziland’s share slashed, a change the kingdom failed to budget for.