Five elderly women in the Nsalitje area of Swaziland (eSwatini) have starved to death and many more are said to be quietly being killed by hunger.
An ongoing draught and restrictions on importing cheap mealie maize from neighbouring South Africa are being blamed.
One resident told the Times of eSwatini, 'We are dying silently here while the government is only concerned with protecting local produce, but not the lives of people who can't afford local prices of mealie meal. People are dying and others are flocking the local clinics with ailments associated with hunger.'
The newspaper quoted a nutritionist saying, 'I have investigated the cases of the five elderly women, and the indication is that they died of starvation. I discovered that these women stayed alone and only relied on neighbours to get them bags of mealie meal whenever the residents set out to South Africa to make purchases.'
The nutritionist said victims might die from as little as three weeks or as long as two months of starvation, depending on circumstances.
Local Headman Sipho Matse told the newspaper they died of hunger, 'simply because they couldn't import enough mealie meal from the neighbouring South African town of Pongola. That is where most residents living closer to the southern borderline source mealie meal.'
He said the five women had tried to get mealie maize from South Africa but had it seized by border officials because of a restriction on the amount that could be imported from the country.
Matse said most people in the area relied on subsistence farming but crops had failed in the drought. People had been forced to travel to nearby South Africa to buy maize at affordable prices.
In July 2019 a report stated more than 200,000 people which is one in five of the rural population were experiencing severe food shortages and required urgent humanitarian assistance.
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) snapshot for the period up to March 2020 stated, 'In comparison with last year, the situation has deteriorated.' It added, 'This deterioration can be attributed to the anticipated drought, which led to farmers choosing not to plant their fields, reducing casual labour opportunities and food availability, with one-fifth of households depleting their assets or engaging in crisis or emergency coping strategies to mitigate moderate to large food gaps.
'Between October 2019 and March 2020, around 232,000 people (25 percent of the rural population) are estimated that they will likely experience severe acute food insecurity.'
In a previous report the World Food Program (WFP) said it had fallen more than US$9 million short in its fundraising to help ease the hunger crisis gripping Swaziland. That amounted to only 47 percent of the US$17.4 million it hoped to raise.
WFP gave no reason for its shortfall in funding but there have been reports in recent years that international donors are concerned about the lavish lifestyle of King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as an absolute monarch, and his family.
Swaziland is designated a 'middle income' country by the World Bank based on the Kingdom's national income. The problem in Swaziland is that this income is not evenly distributed among the population. The King takes 25 percent of all mining royalties and controls the profits of the conglomerate Tibiyo TakaNgwane. Officially he keeps these monies 'in trust' for the Swazi nation, but in reality much of it goes to fund his own lifestyle.
He has two private airplanes, at least 13 palaces and fleets of top-of-the-range cars. At his 50th birthday in 2018 he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds that weighed 6 kg. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.
Earlier this month (November 2019) he bought himself and his wives 15 luxury Rolls-Royce cars, estimated to have cost US$6 million.
A few days later Swaziland took delivery of a fleet of 84 BMW cars and 42 BMW motorbikes, which were reportedly for 'escort duties'. The cost of these has not been revealed.