Swazi queen flies out after king falls ill

Time of article published Apr 21, 2001

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By Lunga Masuku

Mbabane - Queen Sibonelo Mngomezulu left Swaziland for Europe on Thursday night in the wake of allegations that her husband, King Mswati III, had been poisoned.

Absolute monarch Mswati III disappeared from public view two weeks ago after a ritual marula beer festival. Palace and government officials have refused to release details of Mswati's reported ailment, but finally confirmed this week that the 33-year-old king had been rushed to a private Pretoria clinic for one week before being flown home for treatment by a team of senior Libyan doctors.

The doctors flew to Swaziland on a chartered Boeing 707 to treat Mswati on orders from President Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Sibusiso Dlamini, the Swazi prime minister, confirmed this on Friday, but insisted the government was "not aware" that the king was suffering from food poisoning or any other serious ailment.

"I strongly believe that the reports about food poisoning are not true. I am optimistic that the king will address the nation soon," said Dlamini.

He declined to say what Mswati's sickness was or why Mngomezulu and both her children, Princess S'khanyiso Dlamini, 13, and Prince Lindani, 10, were detained at Matsapha international airport on Monday. Mngomezulu is the most senior of Mswati's eight wives. She was reportedly driven to the Lozitha palace and questioned about the suspected poisoning.

Paul Shabangu, the king's private secretary, refused to comment, but confirmed that Mswati became seriously ill during a ritual marula beer festival at his Hlane palace in eastern Swaziland a fortnight ago.

Palace insiders alleged that Mswati complained of stomach cramps immediately after eating a special breakfast prepared by Mngomezulu.

He was reportedly also too ill to taste the fermented marula brew and was rushed to an unnamed Pretoria clinic shortly afterwards.

The sickness prevented Mswati from officiating at Easter church services for the first time in his 15-year reign and prompted the government to cancel his 33rd birthday celebration on Thursday, which was a public holiday.

Mngomezulu and her children were finally allowed to leave Swaziland for London at 7pm on Thursday for a "holiday" with her father, Percy Mngomezulu, Swaziland's high commission in Britain.

Senior airport officials report that a large delegation of royal security officials escorted Mngomezulu to the plane and claim that the atmosphere was "extremely tense". The trip follows an earlier controversial visit to London when Mngomezulu flew out of Swaziland without permission immediately after telling a South African magazine: "I don't care what Mswati does with his life."

The interview followed allegations that she leaked to the local press damaging information about Mswati's youngest wife, calling attention to Senteni Masango's school record for truancy and poor grades.

Mngomezulu stayed in London for two months before returning home just before Christmas.

Mswati is not the first high-profile Swazi figure to be incapacitated by a mystery illness. Princess Delisa Magwaza, one of his younger wives, spent five days at an Mbabane clinic earlier this month for headaches, fever and nausea.

Edgar Hillary, the kingdom's police commissioner, has also been booked off work for over six weeks for an unspecified illness. There is no indication when he will return to duty. Assistant superintendent Leckina Magagula, police spokes-person, was unable to say what was wrong with him this week.

Meanwhile, Swaziland's queen mother Ntombi Thwala has taken over power in Mswati's absence and is ruling as regent until he is well enough to return to the throne. - African Eye News Service

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