Friday, September 2, 2005
HM King Mswati III of Swaziland has held a massive ceremony to find his 13th wife. More than 50,000 showed up to the unofficial call for brides. All potential brides who attended the two-day Reed Dance, held annually since 1999, were bare-breasted, wearing short, beaded skirts and were supposedly virgins.
As his country’s 37-year-old Ngwenyama (king), Mswati is the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mario Masuku, leader of the banned opposition party, said that “The Reed Dance has been abused for one man’s personal satisfaction. The king has a passion for young women and opulence.” Masuku’s comments were based on the fact that the Reed Dance traditionally celebrated virginity and womanliness.
“The king takes a wife whenever he wants, and that’s the way it is. This is our culture, and we will never change,” says Tsandzile Ndluva, 21, one of the dancers at the event.
Ludzidzini Royal Village also hosted the Great She-Elephant, their name for the country’s queen mother Ntombi Thwala. She was greeted by 50,000 people, which is 5% of the nation’s population. Their traditional ceremony for the She-Elephant includes dancing and building a wind-break for her out of reeds.
The King’s current wives include Inkhosikati LaMatsebula, Inkhosikati LaMotsa, Inkhosikati LaMbikiza, Inkhosikati LaNgangaza, Inkhosikati LaHwala, Inkhosikati LaMagwaza, Inkhosikati LaMasango, Inkhosikati LaGija, Inkhosikati LaMagongo, and Inkhosikati LaMahlangu. LaMbikiza has a Master’s Degree in Law.
He has 27 children from his first 13 wives and wives-to-be, and over 200 brothers and sisters, a result of his late father King Sobhuza II’s 70 wives. Mswati must look after all of these relatives with funds from the royal-owned company, Tibiyo TakaNgwane.
At the Reed Dance, Mswati repealed the law prohibiting sexual activity for girls younger than 18. This law was first enacted in 2001, to help in the fight against AIDS, which was, and still is, at crisis levels. The ban was set to end in 2006. The law was actually a revival of the ancient “umchwasho” rite, a Swazi tradition. In the first weeks this law was enacted, Mswati broke it himself, marrying Inkhosikati LaMagongo. This forced him to pay a fine of one cow.
Forty-percent of Swazis are HIV positive, including 42% of pregnant women, a matter that the King was taken to heart, to some extent. He has travelled internationally to try and raise money, increase awareness, and seek solutions to the epidemic. World-renowned musicians like Michael Jackson have signed on to record an album, to raise funds for orphans in the country. However, the young king does not seem to have realised the importance of leadership by personal example, and the Swaziland Ministry of Health website  shows little evidence of his government’s commitment to address the issue.
The King says he is suffering from stress, finding it difficult to cope with the pressure of work. He told BBC News “I find very little time with my family most of the time. I normally work until 11pm… and this makes me feel stressed because I’m being overworked, but I have to do everything possible to satisfy my people.”