Swazi Queen, Sibonelo Mngomezulu was always a bit of a wild child. She traded in dolls for soccer boots as a teenager when she joined a team at a time when few women were involved in the sport.

Her father had achieved what few black men of his time could in becoming a lawyer and actively encouraged his children to educate themselves and be independent.

Although born just outside the borders of the Kingdom of Swaziland, the Mngomezulus regarded themselves as Swazi with young Sibonelo sent to school in Mbabane.

Then, at the tender age of 16, Sibonelo was plucked from relative obscurity in her village of Ingwavuma to the life of a child queen to a child-king.

“I met the king at the reed dance. He saw me at the dance when he came back from school in England. But I disappeared into the crowd.

That was August,” said Mngomezulu who is officially called Inkhosikati LaMbikiza.

When the young King Mswati III, then just 18-years-old, returned in December he had not forgotten the beautiful maiden who had caught his eye. “When he came back he reviewed the tape of the dance and sent his people to look for me,” said LaMbikiza.

She has been described by her detractors as overly ambitious, a woman who clamours for the spotlight and who has notions of her son one day becoming the ruler of the tiny, landlocked kingdom.

Her striking beauty and strong personality is something she seems to purposely underplay with her sombre dress sense and quiet, sweet voice.

There is undoubtedly a rebellious streak, a touch of the tomboy in the queen, evidenced by pictures of her in her youth decked out in a Moroka Swallows tracksuit with her hair cropped short.

“I grew up Swallows. I am very loyal. One guy who I remember as a kid who was a great player was Daniel ‘Vader' Mophosho.

"It was great meeting him here,” says LaMbikiza.

She proudly points to a signed Swallows shirt signed by the squad when they visited Swaziland during their pre-season warm-up this year.

Until recently the Inkhosikati was still playing netball with women soldiers.

But these days her time is almost totally consumed by her charitable work, most prominently her Lusito Charity Organisation which sponsors poor Swazi children to receive treatment at South African clinics and hospitals.

Unlike the residence of the Queen Mother - the venue for the annual reed dance - Inkhosikati LaMbikiza's home is undoubtedly one of royal splendour befitting her position as first wife.

Visible amid a countryside of undulating hills, just after a turn-off signposting the queen's home, the spires announce the luxury residence custom-built for Inkhosikati LaMbikiza shortly after her marriage to King Mswati.

Down a flight of stairs at the entrance to her palace is a disco, complete with flashing lights and DJ booth.

Surprisingly, despite the grandiose austerity of the palace from outside, there is a homely feel about the residence with seemingly everyday snapshots interspersed with more serious ones like that taken with former US President Bill Clinton during a trip to the US.

LaMbikiza caused somewhat of a stir a few years ago when she qualified as a lawyer, following in the footsteps of her father and brother.

This unsettled a few feathers among the strong Swazi traditionalists who forbid a queen to hold a job.

“At first, we are a very conservative people. Every time I do something new, it becomes a bit of a shock, but they get used to it,” she says.

“They were rather hesitant. Maybe hoping I wouldn't cause any trouble. And no, I haven't,” she adds.

Thus far the queen has used her education to advise those who seek it and she is studying further.

“Women are slowly but surely coming to the fore,” she says coyly.

As Inkhosikati, LaMbikiza also joins first ladies from across the continent to discuss, advocate and initiate programmes for the betterment of Africa in a forum on the side of AU meetings.

“They (first ladies) believe that men are erratic, sometimes irrational. They say that we are the ones who must live with it. Women see themselves as a voice of reason.

“When it comes to a decision of war, it is their duty to dissuade,” says LaMbikiza.

Being the wife of a man who already has 12 wives and with a seeming endless thirst for more,

how are the relationships between the wives?

For the first time LaMbikiza seems slightly befuddled, hesitating, her eyes dancing around the walls of the reception area decorated with pictures of herself, the king and their two children.

After a long silence, the answer: “Cordial,” is all she says at first. After some more thought she adds: “Diplomatic. Pleasant.”

“There's no point in being antagonistic towards each other.

“There are no major disagreements. We mainly come together at national functions. It's only a few hours in the week,” she says.

As for her relationship with her husband, she has no words.

Among Swazi society LaMbikiza is regarded as the king's favoured wife, his first love, coming soon after two arranged marriages for kinship with other powerful clans in Swaziland.

Two queens have palaces and recently King Mswati commissioned a further 10 to be built for his other wives, at a cost of R100-million. He also ordered a new fleet of BMWs and Mercedes-Benz S-380s for them, complete with goldplated numberplates.

This extravagance along with the recent purchase of a R3,5-million Maybach and a limited edition Mercedes-Benz limousine turned the royal household and the king into international headlines for all the wrong reasons.

“He has his role as a monarch but then again he has other responsibilities,” says LaMbikiza.

King Mswati is also tasked with taking care of his more than 200 brothers and sisters.

“He is balancing the two positions well. If they could see what he does for the nation they would see he is doing quite well. His position is not an easy one because he has to spread himself around,” she says.

But surely these extravagances are uncalled for when more than 60 percent of the country wallows in poverty?

“For him to make some decisions for the country he must lead a life where he is comfortable and he is not frustrated so he can act with a clear mind,” says the Inkhosikati.

Are there any regrets about getting married at the age of 16?

“Life as a queen deprived me of a normal childhood. Whereas I was supposed to be nurtured I

had too much responsibility thrust upon me,” she answers in her measured tone.

No member of the public is allowed to touch the queen. - Independent Foreign Service