By Felipe Bueno
The Umhlanga Reed Dance of 2017 marked a monumental occasion for King Mswati III of Swaziland, the 49-year-old absolute monarch of the African Nation, who chose Siphele Mashwama, a 19-year-old girl who attended the reed dance, to be his 14th wife, reports AllAfrica. The Reed Dance is an annual tradition that attracts young unmarried women from all parts of Swaziland to the Ludzidzini Royal Village to pay homage to the Queen Mother, according to the Kingdom of Swaziland.
The dance, commonly referred simply as Umhlanga, is where King Mswati has selected numerous previous wives, reports BBC. One such instance was in the case of Phindile Nkambule, who was 17 when she became Mswati’s 13th wife, reports BBC.
The teenage Siphele will join 13 other women as the wife of King Mswati III, who was the youngest world leader at the time of his coronation at the age of 18 in 1986, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. His immense power and wealth are the result of his early efforts to consolidate power, effectively abolishing his advisory board, appointing his own prime minister, and implementing nepotistic policies, writes the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Upon reaching the tender age of what is considered legal adulthood in the United States, these girls are inducted into the household of the richest and most powerful man in land. As the last king of Sub-Saharan Africa, Mswati enjoys unrivaled political power and wealth.
According to TradingEconomics, Swaziland has a GDP of $3.72 billion as of 2016, while Mswati holds $200 million in personal wealth according to AllAfrica. His personal wealth, however, remains separate from the expenditures he justifies as pertaining to the state.
For example, he recently purchased a $13 million A430-300 Airbus, at a time when about one in four of Swaziland’s 1.3 million population was in extreme danger of hunger due to the prolonged drought in the southern Africa region, reports AllAfrica. Additionally, with his supreme legal authority, Mswati was able to increase his annual household budget by by more than 10 percent to $61 million in 2014, reports the Guardian.
Instances like the purchasing of a private jet can be viewed as negligent, while other policies are simply oppressive. While still being an absolute monarchy, Swaziland is also a chiefdom where chiefs are appointed by the king to represent him in local communities. Often times, as was the case recently in the Southern Hhohho region, families are fined for not attending community meetings and paying ‘homage’ to their local chief, reports AllAfrica.
The fine of $64, equivalent to a cheap parking ticket in the U.S., is detrimental to a Swazi family, who must rely on less than $2 a day, reports AllAfrica.
The People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) remains Mswati’s most vocal opposition party, calling the decision to purchase his airliner “corrupt” and “insensitive.” According to PUDEMO, the money could have been used to pay for “2,500 students to finish their degrees at the university from 1st year to 4th year. The same amount can pay for 42,500 children to start form one up to form five in public schools,” reports AllAfrica.
Hypocrisy is not new to Mswati’s spending habits, or his royal decrees. Days before selecting Phindile Nkambule to be his 13th wife, Mswati issued a decree prohibiting sexual relations with girls under the age of 18. This decree was an attempt to stymie the spread of AIDS, as 40 percent of the Swazi population is HIV positive.