Swaziland’s King Mswati III is the last absolute monarch in Africa, and has been a controversial figure since he assumed power in 1986. Though many of his practices are steeped in Swazi tradition, increasing demands for human rights and democracy in Swaziland have shrouded the king in criticism and calls for change. Here are ten things you may not have known about King Mswati III.
Sources: AmnestyUSA.org, DailyMail.co.uk, Biography.JRank.org, SAHistory.org,za, WashingtonPost.com, IBTimes.co.uk, TheGuardian.com, KingOfSwaziland.com
King Mswati was born on April 19, 1968 in Manzini, Swaziland, and was given the birth name of Makhosetive, meaning “Kings of Nations.” His birth occurred just four months before Swaziland gained independence from Britain.
While in primary and secondary school, Makhosetive discovered his talents for sibhaca, a traditional Swazi dance. He organized a sibhaca dance team that competed at various competitions around the country, including at the University of Swaziland.
After completing his Swaziland Primary Certificate Examination – with merits in Mathematics and English – Makhosetive traveled to Sherbourne, in the south of the United Kingdom, to study English, mathematics, business studies, geography, physical science, and economics.
After finishing school, King Mswati III – then known as Makhosetive – developed a great interest in the royal guard. He became the first young cadet to join the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF), or Swaziland’s military, that focuses primarily on domestic protests and border and customs duties, as they have never been involved in a foreign conflict.
King Mswati III was crowned King of Swaziland on April 25, 1986, at the age of 18, making him the youngest ruling monarch in the world at the time. He was selected to be king at the age of 14 when his father, King Sobhuza II, died in 1982, and two of Sobhuza’s wives (Queen Dzeliwe Shongwe and Queen Ntfombi Tfwala, Makhosetive’s mother) served as regent while he finished his education.
The Liqoqo, the supreme traditional advisory power, were involved in factional quarrels within the regime following King Sobhuza II’s death, forcing the Queen Regent (the childless Queen Shongwe) to resign. It was at that point that Queen Ntombi, Makhosetive’s mother, took the position until King Mswati III was crowned, and he disbanded the Liqoyo and called for parliamentary elections.
In May 2014, King Mswati III increased his household budget to $61 million, despite the fact that over 60% of the 1.2 million population lives on less than $1 per day. The king’s budget is not subject to parliament approval, as it would be seen as challenging the absolute monarch, so Mswati III was able to make the 10% increase for additional construction on his palaces, his mother’s upkeep, his own salary, and more. King Mswati III’s personal fortune is estimated at approximately $200 million.
King Mswati III has become the subject of much controversy surrounding his polygamous lifestyle. He recently chose his 15th wife, a 19-year-old virgin named Sindi, at the annual reed dance ceremony that is centered around hundreds of young girls dancing topless for the king, in September 2014. There is some debate, however, on whether Sindi is the king’s 14th or 15th wife.
Swaziland has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, with 26% of its population suffering from the disease. King Mswati III has taken much criticism for his insufficient response to the disease, which has life expectancy rates in Swaziland resting at only 48 years of age, and a wide dearth of antiretroviral drugs and HIV testing. The king attempted to institute a “chastity law” in a misguided effort to combat HIV/AIDS, which made it illegal for women to engage in sexual intercourse until the age of 21, but quickly broke the law himself when he took a 16-year-old girl as his next wife.
In April 2014, hip hop and soul artist Erykah Badu performed at King Mswati’s 46th birthday party, as a guest of jeweler Jacob Arabo. Badu sang “Happy Birthday” to the king, and dedicated her first song to the “sons of Kings.” She also reportedly gave him a $100 note and a “special stone which she said would uplift His Majesty’s spirits when he was feeling down.” After the event, Badu received extensive international criticism for performing for the absolute monarch, though she was unpaid.