Polygamy is still common practice in many parts of Africa although the pressure of modern day living is perhaps forcing people to re-evaluate cultural traditions. Take the case of King Maswati the III of Swaziland. He has more than a hand-full of wives, but far less than his father before him. Keeping one wife happy seems to be a challenge for many men, but when you have more than one, the challenge must become substantial- a challenge The King may not be up to. It would seem that all is not roses in the Royal House.
Swaziland or more formally,The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small African country lying between South Africa and Mozambique with a reputation for friendliness and hospitality. Too small to be a threat to anyone but itself, Swaziland is ‘Africa-Lite’ on a platter: A perfect blend of old and new offering bush-veld wildness and modern day luxury. This is one of the countries that South Africans fled to in the apartheid days if they were involved in a mixed relationship, wanted to let their hair down, gamble a bit at the Swazi Sun Casino, (before casino’s were legalised in South Africa) or just wanted to feel free. It is where many of the anti-apartheid freedom fighters took refuge while planning their attacks on the apartheid government. The current king, King Maswati III took over the throne in 1986 after returning home from a British education and is supported by his mum Indlovukazi, also known as The Great She-Elephant. As Africa’s last absolute Monarch, The King has fourteen wives, or is it thirteen? Reports vary and anyway, who can keep up?
The Life of a Queen
Each year thousands and thousands of Swazi maidens gather and dance before the Queen Mother at the Reed Dance Festivities and it is here that traditionally the King on occasion will select a new bride. In general this is not a random selection, based on a pretty smile and a flashy dance move although that may be the romantic version, but rather a strategic process based on strengthening connections - as has always been the case in Africa and the world over when it comes to arranged marriages. Although more than one Swazi maiden has been rumoured to have fled Swaziland in order to avoid the honour, not all manage to get away and some perhaps even aspire to the position. After all, life could be worse. A quarter of the Swazi population rely on international food aid and an estimated 40% are infected by HIV (the highest percentage of any country in the world). In contrast,The King has a personal fortune estimated to sit at over 60 million British pounds and does not seem to shy away from the ladies. Each wife is set up in luxury with a palatial home and chauffeur driven vehicles. Shopping trips overseas are not uncommon and the children are schooled at some of the finest institutes in the world. So even if you do have to share your man, life could definitely be worse.
A Lot of Queen For One Man
While one might agree that fourteen women equates to plenty of wife to keep one man happy, one would suspect that keeping them all happy in return would require quite a lot of man, a challenge that King Maswati III does not seem to be stepping up to. Based on media reports, all is not well in the Kingdom.... Enter Queen Inkhosikati La Dube.
In 2004 King Maswati married Inkhosikati La Dube, in the wake of two of his queens absconding. La Dube was to be his twelfth wife. A Swazi Teen Beauty Queen and a tender sixteen years old, this marriage may well have been more about the sway of a hip, the flash of an eyelid and the stroke of a bruised ego than a strategic political or business move. Six years and three children later La Dube has brought disgrace onto the Royal House being caught in an affair with none other than the King’s friend and business confident, Minister of justice and Constitutional Affairs, Ndumiso Mamba. The King was on a state visit to Taiwan when Mamba was caught doing The Rumba with queen number 12 at a local hotel. The King was apparently shattered. The scandal in itself must have been tiring to cope with, never mind the blow to his pride and the loss of not only his lovely young bride but also his good friend. Due to financial pressure the King has now been encouraged by his advisers to abstain from marrying further as each marriage causes huge strain on the already empty state coffers. In order to satisfy his needs he has been advised to rather entertain girlfriends at one of his many guest houses scattered across the land.
More Queen Than One Man Can Handle
Rumour from the royal court is that the remaining Queens are a bit set back by this advise as they see little of their husband as it is. Life for an African Queen can get lonely and one can’t help wondering if all of this will lead to further hotel shenanigans between Swazi Royals and loyal servants of the crown. A strategy for coping with the management of the Queens’ needs in days gone by was to put them under direct guard by young boys who were removed from their royal duties at the age of twelve. Anyone of a more eligible age was placed in the outer-guard circle, out of the reach of the Queens. Queens are human too and need not be unduly led into temptation. If it sounds stressful keeping 14 wives happy though, have a thought for the kings of old. King Maswati’s father for example had 70 wives and over 100 children.
The tradition is certainly slowing down. Perhaps they don’t make kings like they used to anymore or perhaps the pressure from the realities of modern life are enforcing change. One can’t help but wonder if King Maswati III has thought about the cultural traditions he continues to support and how they contradict the messages on the bill-boards splayed across his Kingdom promoting one partner relationships in order to avoid HIV infection. And one wonders if on occasion in a quiet moment, King Maswati III ever dreams about a more simple, one wife life.
Johan Smulders from East London, South Africa on June 26, 2012:
After a visit to Swaziland and meeting a Swazi Princess I have again read you article and find it interresting indeed. Saw the house of one of his wives and it is impressive.