The idiom “Put your own house in order first” is taking on a special meaning for Swaziland’s King Mswati III.
Beyond the palace, he is facing increasingly vociferous demands for multiparty democracy even as the national treasury runs dry.
At home, he is confronting a revolt of a different sort as three of his 13 queens have abandoned the palace since he took the throne in 1986.
And more of his queens are trying to break out of the palace.
A royal source says some of the queens are frustrated as the king has allowed many months to pass without “visiting” them. They accuse him of seeking his pleasures outside the palace instead.
This comes after revelations about the recent unceremonious departure from the palace of LaDube, the king’s estranged 12th wife, after she had been accused of having a relationship with former minister of justice and constitutional affairs Ndumiso Mamba. To make matters worse, Mamba was the king’s business confidant and friend.
After the affair came to the king’s attention, he denied LaDube conjugal rights, according to insiders. They say he was trying to make palace life intolerable for her so that she would leave.
But LaDube did not want to leave her children behind. The king and the queen mother would not let her take the children, insisting that the king’s children must grow up only in a royal household.
Royal witnesses narrated how things turned nasty as LaDube tried to take one of her children to hospital, only to be blocked by her bodyguard. This provoked a heated row, the bodyguard assaulted her and she retaliated by squirting pepper spray in his face.
After this, the queen mother is said to have ordered the bodyguards to pack LaDube’s belongings and expel her from her royal residence.
She is officially no longer part of the royal family and has been dumped at her maternal grandmother’s home in Hhohho.
She has been separated from her children, the youngest being two years. She has no food and the house she was dumped in has no bedding.
LaDube was the third of Mswati’s wives to leave the palace.
She followed LaMagwaza and LaHwala, who both now live in South Africa.
LaMagwaza was accused of having a steamy sexual relationship with a South African toy boy. Sources claimed that she was sex starved, as the king would not visit her.
At the height of the sex scandal, she was granted permission to visit her family home at Mbekelweni in central Swaziland and never returned. She is reported to be living a prosperous life after marrying an SA tycoon with whom she has a child.
LaHwala was also neglected by the king who would deny her conjugal rights for six months at a time.
Her uncle and guardian, Simon Noge, made a special request to the king for her to visit South Africa. She never returned. She is reportedly struggling, but one source said the palace was planning build her a house in South Africa since she has royal children.
All this drama in the palace confuses and dismays even staunch traditionalists, like Mdlambila Dlamini, 78.
“What the king does, we have never heard of in the history of royal family. That king’s wives leave the royal family and are sent back to their parental families. Such has never been seen.”
Traditionally, according to Dlamini, king’s wives cannot be allowed even to bury their relatives, not even parents, because customarily, death should not be associated with the king.
So the wives should not visit their family homes.
“In the event that does happen,” Dlamini explains, “it means they are no more royal members. That goes without saying.”
Dlamini’s explanation suggests that LaDube is no longer considered a queen by the royal family. LaDube was also ordered not to participate in royal functions.
This is contrary to media statements made by acting Ludzidzini palace governor Timothy Velabo Mtsetfwa that LaDube asked to visit her parents and her request was granted.
Mtsetfwa claimed the body guards were keeping a close eye on her because she is part of the royal family.
Dlamini says the way the king marries his wives differs from the custom of Swazi commoners. In Swazi tradition, young girls becomes the king’s fiancées after they have been abducted in the traditional way.
They graduate from being fiancées to full wives as soon as they fall pregnant, when the king customarily marries them.
But the traditional marriage, known as “Ludvendve” (marriage to the king) only follows later, sometimes only years later. And because the king is above the law, a queen cannot produce any legal document to prove she is the wife of the king.
Dlamini says Mswati’s reign has messed up royal customs beyond measure.
“There is a lot going wrong with this present king. His reign is marred by a cloud of confusion.
“Take, for an example, now there are women in the army and the police services and who can provide security and drive the queens around. Why is it necessary that men should guard and drive the queens?
“Traditionally, queens are given small boys below the age of 12 to guard them.
“As soon as they reach the age of 12 they are removed. Then how do you explain this present situation where queens are guarded by grown-up men? Queens are human, too. They fall into temptation,” Dlamini says.
Dlamini says Mswati is spoilt and it seems that no one controls him.
“In our culture a king is a child. He can’t behave anyhow. A king is told what to do and what to say. He can’t just speak what he likes anyhow.”
The last time the king took a fiancée was in 2005, which was LaNkambule, his 13th wife. Since then he has stopped taking a fiancée during the annual Reed Dance ceremony.
Some sources say he has been discouraged from marrying more girls by the problems with his present wives.
These sources suggest Mswati now chooses to satisfy himself with girlfriends whom he takes to guest houses he owns across the kingdom, rather than marrying them.
This is aggravating the distress of the queens because he is neglecting them even more.
Attacked by political dissidents from without, and eroded by discontented queens from within, it is questionable whether Swaziland’s absolute monarchy can survive for long, as it is. – Independent Foreign Service