More than 300 Swazi cancer patients being treated in South African hospitals have been repatriated according to the Cancer Association of Swaziland, (CANASWA), after the government of King Mswati III could not meet their medical costs.
Swaziland is experiencing acute financial pressures. “The entire fleet of [government] cars, except for emergency vehicles” and those used by the security services, has been grounded, said an official who declined to be identified. The other exception is transport for Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The government is the country’s largest employer. Social services are being cut and public servants may not be paid after the end of June 2011. One fuel supplier alone is owed R17 million (US$2.42 million) and the lack of transport is constraining the activities of government personnel from agricultural field officers to health service providers, the official said.
The Ministry of Agriculture reported on 23 June that there is a 29,000 ton shortfall in the annual maize requirement - the country’s staple food - of about 114,000 tons, which will be filled by imports, but did not say how this will be financed.
Most of the cancer patients in South Africa were recipients of a special fund for the poor - in the absence of a national health system - but Health Minister Benedict Xaba told parliament recently the fund was exhausted.
“Unfortunately, we do not have the chemotherapy equipment to truly treat these patients,” Timothy Vilakati, from CANASWA, told IRIN. “Normally, we refer such patients to South Africa, but that has been suspended because of government’s economic crisis.”
|What we do is provide pain therapy. We have the drugs, like morphine, which we administer at the patients’ homes|
The Swaziland Hospice at Home, located in the industrial town of Matsapha, about 30km east of the capital, Mbabane has been assisting. “What we do is provide pain therapy. We have the drugs, like morphine, which we administer at the patients’ homes. Most of our financing has come from government, so we really must look more to our international donors,” Vilakati said.
Finance Minister Majozi Sithole said a loan application to the African Development Bank had been declined. South Africa’s deputy finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, has confirmed that Swaziland approached them for a loan, but not the amount requested. South Africa is struggling with extremely high unemployment.
“Any consideration of a bail-out must be linked to the demand of a new and democratic government,” said the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), South Africa’s largest trade union federation and alliance partner of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) - and a staunch supporter of Swaziland’s pro-democracy movement.
Dimpho Motsamai, a researcher in the Africa Conflict Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies, a Pretoria-based think-tank, told IRIN that during pro-democracy protests in Swaziland earlier in 2011, South Africa called for dialogue and restraint from the security forces.
The largest anti-government protests in years took place on 12 April 2011 - the 38th anniversary of a decree issued by Mswati’s predecessor, King Sobhuza II, which imposed a state of emergency and banned political parties - sparked by the construction of "vanity projects" like a new $1 billion international airport when there are overwhelming social needs.
In January 2011 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made a number of recommendations to stave off economic disaster in donor-dependent Swaziland. Chief among them was that the bloated public sector workforce be cut to a more suitable size.
The government announced that it would cut 7,000 public service jobs during 2011, but so far has cut none. Even without the cuts, Swaziland's unemployment rate stands at 40 percent and it is estimated that about a third of the country’s one million population depend on the proceeds of public sector salaries.
“Government offered civil servants voluntary retirement pension packages, but no one wants to take government up on its offer because we don’t believe there will be money to pay us these pensions,” Anthony Dlamini, an accountant with a government ministry, told IRIN.
|People are suffering - we can no longer say we will worry tomorrow|
Attempts to trim salaries were also being rebuffed by trade unions. A three-day strike this week by teachers protesting salary cuts and government spending priorities was suspended by the Industrial Court, but is far from resolved.
Income from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) has provided around 75 percent of government revenues according to some estimates, but this has declined in recent years, putting acute financial pressure on the public purse.
SACU, comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, is the world oldest customs union. It applies a common set of tariffs and disproportionately distributes the revenue to member states, providing a lifeline that ensures the economic survival of landlocked Swaziland and Lesotho.
“Many Swazis have family in South Africa. Many of us also carry South African passports. If things continue to deteriorate, it is easy for us to reside with our kin there,” said Bethel Simelane, a textile worker in Matsapha.
“We all wonder how we are going to survive financially, and how bad things will get,” said Bethel Simelane’s sister, Thembi. “People are suffering - we can no longer say we will worry tomorrow.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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