Jan. 3 (GIN) – After years of exorbitant spending on luxury cars, foreign trips abroad, and on mansions for his 13 wives, Swazi King Mswati’s credit has maxed out.
A bailout loan of $355 million from South Africa remains unclaimed because Pretoria is demanding political and economic reforms. Only Coca-Cola, a major investor, is providing some support for the cash-strapped king.
With the country approaching meltdown, the soda company bubbled up with a full page spread, wishing Happy Birthday to the King in the pages of the state-owned press. It was bad taste and poor timing for pro-democracy activists who are now calling for Coke to stand up for justice for Swazi people.
“Coca-Cola must know they’re doing business with the wrong people,” Mary Pais Da Silva, coordinator of the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, told the Guardian newspaper. “At the end of the day it doesn’t benefit the economy. Their profits don’t help the average Swazi, while the king is getting richer by the day.”
Coca-cola insists that it aims to be “an outstanding corporate citizen in every community we serve.” It set up in Swaziland in 1987 after leaving apartheid South Africa.
Coke’s operations in Swaziland are its largest in Africa. Some activists estimate that Coca-Cola contributes as much as 40% of the country’s GDP.
Lucky Lukhele, a spokesman for Swaziland Solidarity Network, said: “Coca-Cola should find a way of directing the profits to the people of Swaziland. They should start supporting the pro-democracy movement.” w/pix of King Mswati III