In the “Garden of Eden”, where the king and his 15 wives live in luxury, the grandmothers cultivate to raise their orphaned grandchildren

In Eswatini, the kingdom where the king and his 15 wives live a luxurious life, grandmothers are forced to grow marijuana. PHOTO: Profimedia Images

In Eswatini, the kingdom where the king and his 15 wives live a luxurious life, grandmothers are forced to grow marijuana in order to feed their orphaned grandchildren and children left behind by the AIDS epidemic. People call the area “the gardens of Eden”, but women end up in prostitution and doing illegal business to survive.

In Nhlangano, southern Eswatini, many grandparents remained the only support for orphans in southern Africa. Marijuana plots are hidden in the forests of the mountains. Just around a small village, Guardian journalists   counted 17 such plantations.

Noncedo Manguya had three children, but they all died after becoming infected with HIV and leaving five grandchildren in their care. She remained the sole breadwinner of her family, in addition to her five grandchildren, and two other children left in her care after the death of their parents. At 59, Manguya is trying to make money by illegally growing marijuana, which he sells to dealers in South Africa.

“Poverty has pushed me to do this. There are no jobs, children have to go to school, but the government is not helping us at all. I end up doing illegal things so I can take care of them, ”she says.  

The woman says she has been doing this for 11 years and that is the only way she can put food on the table for the children, dress them or send them to school.

“Our lives have gotten better,” she said.

Manguya is one of the many women in the country who depend on growing marijuana for a living. They sell drugs at a price ten times lower than dealers in South Africa or Mozambique.

With a population of 1.1 million,  Eswatini, the last monarchy in Africa, ruled in the last three decades by King Mswati III, has an unemployment rate of almost 24%, a poverty rate of 52% and a GDP growth of -3.3%.

According to the International Labor Organization, 23.7% of women in Eswatini are unemployed and at least half of them prostitute, cultivate marijuana or smuggle alcohol. These women are in constant danger because the authorities use spies to discover them, and the police demand bribes not to punish them.

” It is difficult to be a woman in a country where politicians do not give priority to the well-being of women and children ,  says Noncedo Manguya.

In the village of Mashobeni, Lessie Mbenyu lives with her aunt, who helps her continue her school after her mother dies. During the pandemic, because the school was closed, the two worked together for banned crops.

He has no hope that the school will secure a future for him and claims that if he did not grow marijuana he would starve.

Women say the authorities should provide subsidies to children and families affected by poverty and disease so that they can no longer push them into illegal businesses to survive.

In May, dozens of people died during protests that shook the Eswatini. Demonstrators called for democratic reforms and accused King Mswati of repression. At the same time, protesters accused the royal family, including the king’s 15 wives, of enjoying a lavish lifestyle, while most people live in poverty.

Sibusiso Siyaya, a spokesman for the country’s main opposition party, accuses the king of not prioritizing people’s needs and that this is why they are getting involved in illegal business.

According to Siyaya, the government did not lay the foundations of a competitive economy, but relied only on foreign direct investment for development, which led to rising unemployment and corruption in public institutions, especially in hospitals.

“The government has downplayed the efforts of organizations involved in the fight against HIV / AIDS in this country. He did not support them and they did not have the desired results “, he adds.

A representative of a rural women’s rights organization said there was a need for decent jobs and that there were many barriers to a decent life, especially for young women, who ended up in prostitution for a living. , which deepens the problem of HIV / AIDS.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture claimed that Eswatini is a mountainous, landlocked country that does not have enough agricultural land. However, opposition representatives said the opposite: “ It is not true that Eswatini does not have enough land for agriculture. The country has land that cannot be used because it belongs to the king. The past injustices of a system that has tried to enrich a few must be corrected to the detriment of the majority, especially women and young people . “

Currently, there is only one legal cannabis grower in Eswatini: the US company Profile Solutions Inc is licensed to grow and process medical cannabis and hemp for at least 10 years.

But despite the risks, older women do not want to enter the legal market, because I think this would lead to lower prices at which they sell and say they want the situation not to change.

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