Monday, June 21, 2004


A raft carrying 42 destitute Africans -- bundled up for a chilly, wind-swept crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar -- washed up on a nudist beach in southern Spain. Spanish television broadcast amateur video footage of surprised bathers at the Sunday landing at sun-splashed Canos de Meca beach in Cadiz province. The migrants included four babies, including one just 11 days old. A group of bathers was shown gathered around one of the infants, gently counting the fingers on one of its hands and coming up with six.

Bathers helped emergency medical crews carry some of the undocumented foreigners on stretchers to ambulances for treatment for dehydration, hypothermia and malnutrition. One African screamed wildly into a cell phone and ran around as colleagues tried to restrain him. It was no immediately known where the African's were from.

Such arrivals are common in Spain, especially in summer, but usually take place under cover of night, not on a beach packed with weekend sunbathers. Each year tens of thousands of Africans seeking to escape poverty attempt treacherous trips in flimsy, overcrowded boats, hoping to reach Spanish soil by crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco or heading west to the Canary Islands. Many are caught and sent back, though thousands manage to slip through.

A Moroccan immigrant workers' association known as ATIME says some 4,000 migrants have drowned in the past five years while trying to make such trips.

Meanwhile, Swazi King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, has taken a new wife, bringing the number of official spouses to 11. King Mswati and 20-year-old Zena Mahlangu tied the knot last week at the traditional headquarters of the monarchy just outside the capital city of Mbabane. The occasion started in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday and it dragged on until afternoon.

Zena Mahlangu's mother, Lindiwe Dlamini, had tried in vain to prevent the king from marrying her daughter after claiming that she had been abducted by two royal emissaries on October 18, 2002. Royalists managed to overrule the high court of Swaziland ruling that Zena should appear before it to say whether she was happy living in the royal household as one of the king's two fiancees. Media reports later quoted Zena as saying she was happy living in the royal household but her mother dimissed them as false.

Born on April 6, 1968, only four months before Swaziland attained independence from Britain, the British-educated King Mswati is, like the country he rules, a mix of traditional African and modern Western influences. While he has embraced Western-style market-driven economic policies, the king has adhered to traditional political culture, which allows him full control of the executive, judiciary and executive arms of government.

Like all the Swazi kings before him, he is a polygamist.

The monarch is increasingly being criticised for his lavish lifestyle while most of his subjects live in poverty and have to grapple with AIDS, food shortages and severe drought. The king recently attracted sweeping criticism for ordering new palaces worth 14 million dollars for his then 10 wives and two fiancees at a time when the country faces a deficit of around 145 million dollars. His kingdom has suffered its fourth successive year of drought, combined with a serious problem of AIDS, which affects about 38 percent of the adult population, according to the latest government figures.

"Envy and jealousy stem from the fundamental inability to rejoice at someone else's happiness or success." - Matthieu Ricard

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