September 1, 2005

Swaziland Princess' Party Angers Father

Summary of below story: a King is set to marry yet another pregnant wife, and his of-age daughter having some drinks and dancing with her friends merits a beating and much hand-wringing and shame. Whatever. Princess Sikhanyiso should come to Chicago and hang out with me. Much fun, no beating.

The Swazi king's daughter has long raised eyebrows with her Western-style clothes. Now her decision to hold a drinking party to celebrate the end of a chastity decree has shocked members of Africa's last absolute monarchy — and resulted in a beating.

The scandal caused by Princess Sikhanyiso's latest flouting of tradition has cast a pall over Swaziland's royal bride-choosing festivities, when her father was to select another wife.

The annual reed dance, at which 20,000 girls in beads and traditional skirts danced before King Mswati III, ended late Monday with no indication of whether he had chosen a bride. In recent years, the king has increasingly made his choice in private, after a screening by palace aides and his mother.

Royal officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is considered sensitive, said Tuesday the king had privately chosen three potential brides and might unveil one at a ceremony in southern Swaziland this weekend.

Royal officials had tried to keep word of Princess Sikhanyiso's party quiet during the reed dance, but acknowledged late Monday it had occurred on Friday to celebrate the end of a ban on sexual relations for girls younger than 18. The chastity rite is separate from the bride-choosing ritual.

In 2001, Mswati temporarily revived the ancient "umchwasho" rite — symbolized by the wearing of woolen tassels — to fight
AIDS, which is at crisis levels in Swaziland, but it was ridiculed as old-fashioned and unfairly focused on girls. Days before the reed dance, the king announced he was ending the ban a year early.

His eldest daughter, a 17-year-old who was rarely seen in the umchwasho tassels herself, said Friday's party with loud music and alcoholic drinks was a private gathering that did not warrant the public scrutiny it received.

"We were just enjoying ourselves," Princess Sikhanyiso was quoted as saying in a local newspaper.

Ntsonjeni Dlamini, who oversees traditional affairs, was not amused.
"We were so shocked that the girls decided to turn the reed dance ceremony into a drinking and dancing spree," Dlamini said Monday. He said he was compelled by tradition to beat the celebrating girls — including the king's daughter — with a stick.

"I was so surprised to see Princess Sikhanyiso drinking and dancing when I expected her to lead by example by respecting herself as a leader," said one of the girls involved, Nonhlanhla Dlamini, who is not related to Ntsonjeni Dlamini.
The king and his family are no strangers to controversy.

Princess Sikhanyiso's father has come under international pressure for resisting reforms to introduce more democracy in the country. His lavish lifestyle, including indulging a love of top-of-the-range cars, contrasts with the absolute poverty of most of his subjects.

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