Adapted from the New York Times, September 5th, 2008
Mswati III is the king of Swaziland, a land of mountainous splendor near the southern tip of Africa. He is famed for extravagant spending that contrasts sharply with his country's widespread poverty.
Mswati III has taken 13 brides; each has received attendants, a palace and a new BMW. In the government’s latest budget, about $30 million was set aside for “royal emoluments.” But the king’s income is generally believed to exceed that. The royal family also controls a corporate business empire “in trust for the nation,” investing in sugar cane, commercial property and a newspaper. Forbes.com, which is fond of ranking the rich elite, recently listed Mswati III as the world’s 15th wealthiest monarch, estimating his fortune at $200 million.
Swazis have enjoyed decades of peace and are rightfully proud of their culture. But poverty has entrapped two-thirds of the people, leaving hundreds of thousands of them malnourished. And these days death casually sweeps away even the strong. The country has one of the worst rates of H.I.V. infection in the world. Life expectancy has fallen from 60 years in 1997 to barely half that now. Nearly a third of all children have lost a parent.
Mswati III succeeded his father, Sobhuza II, in 1986. Sobhuza II transported the royal family in buses instead of BMWs. But he too liked to get married. It was said that he took 70 wives, though some put the number as high as 110.
Sobhuza II was king when the nation finally broke away from colonialism; although free of Great Britain the country was left with a British-style constitution. The honored monarch did not abide this document for long. In 1973, he dissolved Parliament and eliminated political parties.
In 2005 Mswati III signed a new constitution. But it was a peculiar document, guaranteeing individual liberties with one hand and preserving the monarchy’s power with the other. The king would continue to appoint the prime minister and members of the governing cabinet and the judiciary.
In the summer of 2008, frustration over the king's extravagance increased over the scale of a giant festival, the 40-40 Celebration, so-named to honor the king’s 40th birthday and the nation’s 40th year of independence. To prepare for the event, a new 15,000-seat stadium was built and a fleet of top-of-the-line BMW sedans was ordered for the comfort of visiting dignitaries. Some 1,500 citizens grumpily marched in protest through the capital after news reports said that several of the queens and their entourages had gone on an overseas shopping trip aboard a chartered plane.
Swazi King to Wed 14th Wife
September 17, 2013
Swaziland's King Mswati III has chosen an 18-year-old beauty pageant contestant as his 14th wife, a palace spokesman said Tuesday, days before a much-criticized parliamentary vote. "I can confirm that the king has introduced to the nation a new liphovela (royal fiancee)," said Ludzidzini palace governor Timothy Mtetwa.
Mswati, a 45-year-old who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, introduced Sindiswa Dlamini at a Reed Dance celebration over the weekend, Mtetwa told AFP. She wore red feathers on her head -- a sign of royalty. The young woman graduated from Mbabane's St. Francis High School last year and is a finalist in the Miss Cultural Heritage beauty pageant. The winner will be announced on September 28.
The king has come under fire for his household's lavish lifestyle while the tiny mountain kingdom's 1.2 million people struggle to make a living. Mswati reportedly has a personal fortune of around $200 million (152 euros) and the UN estimates that 70 percent of his 1.2 million subjects live below the poverty line. He has steadfastly resisted reforms.
The new engagement was announced at a festival which also counted regional delegates who will observe parliamentary elections on Friday. Critics have slammed the polls as a sham, partly because political parties are banned and candidates are hand-picked by traditional leaders. The weekend's celebrations were a smaller repeat of last month's official annual Reed Dance, where young virgins from across the kingdom gather and dance for the king. "It just happened that the international community was there to witness the event," said Mtetwa.
The wedding only takes place once the fiancee falls pregnant. Dlamini will then become Mswati's 14th wife. The monarch's colorful private life is off-limits in local media, but has drawn a lot of international interest. Three wives left the household in recent years. The latest, Queen LaGija, fled the palace in 2012 claiming years of physical and emotional abuse. Another queen, LaDube, was reportedly abused after she was caught in bed with the justice minister, a close friend of the king. Mswati had kidnapped and married the queen when she was 16 in 2005.