Mswati III, polygynist king of Swaziland, has taken his 14th wife, an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant. Ludzidzini palace governor Timothy Mtetwa said Tuesday, “I can confirm that the king has introduced to the nation a new liphovela (royal fiancee).”
Forty-five-year-old Mswati, the last absolute monarch of sub-Saharan Africa, introduced new bride Sindiswa Dlamini at a Reed Dance last weekend. Dlamini, a graduate of Mbabane’s St. Francis High School and a finalist in the Miss Cultural Heritage beauty pagean, donned royal red feathers.
Mswati, who has a personal fortune of roughly $200 million, is a controversial figure in Swaziland, where up to 70% of its 1.2 million citizens are impoverished. Mswati staunchly resists government reforms, and is free to chose the prime minister, other top government posts and top traditional posts – though he takes special advice from the queen mother and other special counsel.
The Reed Festival is an event where about 20,000 young virgins from across the kingdom come and dance for Mswati, and any new bride chosen won’t be married until she becomes pregnant. In 2001, Mswati, who has been known to at times kidnap his brides, invoked his traditional powers of chastity rites (umcwasho), encouraging all maidens from having sex for 5 years, in an attempt to control the Swazi HIV and AIDS pandemic.
The new engagement coincided with the naming of regional delegates who will observe parliamentary elections on Friday, a practice which some see as a joke, because Swaziland has no political parties, and traditional leaders pick delegates regardless.
Swaziland, officially the Kingdom of Swaziland, is a small, landlocked country next to South Africa, has the highest HIV rate in the world, and half of its young people are unemployed. Interestingly, Mswati had recently banned the photographing of any of his vehicles, after it was found that he owns a $500,000 Maybach.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.