Swazi Princess Sikhanyiso during a reed dance ceremony. File photo: Bongiwe Mchunu
Swazi Princess Sikhanyiso during a reed dance ceremony. File photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

Mswati raises lobolo price for daughters

By Titus Gwebu Time of article published Jun 21, 2013

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Mbabane - King Mswati has raised the price of lobolo for his daughters from 60 to at least 100 cows.

And with some of his dozens of daughters now at marriageable age, the polygamous monarch stands to significantly increase the size of his cattle herd.

“(Princesses) are valuable commodities,” Mswati said this week, according to the Swazi media.

He was speaking at Engabezweni Royal Village outside Manzini at the presentation by the Magongo family of 60 head of cattle to settle a lobolo (dowry) debt incurred years ago. Their son married one of Mswati’s aunts, Princess Shiyose, a daughter of Mswati’s father, King Sobhuza. She and her husband are both deceased.

Mswati used the occasion to announce that “cattle paid as lobolo for princesses should not be less than 100”.

Because of the extreme poverty of the country, ordinary Swazi families take years, even decades, to accumulate the necessary cows to pay off royal lobolo debts. The average herd size is three to five cows for the 70 percent of Swazi families who live as landless peasants under chiefs appointed by the palace.

The lobolo for a non-royal Swazi bride is between eight and 15 cows.

Most Swazis, particularly those who follow Christianity, no longer observe the custom.

By setting the new lobolo price for his daughters, Mswati was putting prospective sons-in-law on notice that they must pay the bride price whether they agree with the custom or not.

The rise in the royal lobolo has not gone down well with all Swazis.

An Mbabane economist who declined to be identified noted that such a stiff increase could not be justified as adjusting to inflation.

“This is an arbitrary pricing. Lobolo for King Sobhuza’s daughters was 60 cows. If you adjust for inflation and are paying the king the cash price of a cow then, yes, you’d pay more for a princess in 2013 than 1953. But he wants actual cows, and at least 40 more per daughter.”

Asked if the price was worth it if the son-in-law wished to gain access to sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, he replied: “This king has 14 wives that we know about. How much time can he spend with any of them, much less all the children?”

Political activist Sabelo Shongwe, who seeks a constitutional monarchy in Swaziland under a modern democratic form of government, said: “I’d be willing to pay 100 cows just to have my royal wife join me washing the dishes and cleaning the house.

“Those girls are so spoilt. I think the king was wise to make the bride price for his daughters so high, because only a rich man could give them the life they are used to. If you look in the dictionary under ‘high maintenance’, the definition is ‘Swazi princess’.”

About 70 percent of Swazis live in chronic poverty, according to the UN.

Independent Foreign Service

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