Mail & Guardian

The princess's polygamy slur

01 Sep 2006 00:00 | Percy Zvomuya, Vuyo Sokupa

A Swazi princess's outspoken views about polygamy got her into serious trouble in the troubled kingdom.

"Polygamy brings all advantages in a relationship to men, and this to me is unfair and evil," Princess Sikhanyiso told a recent media conference.

But the 18-year-old princess, who is King Mswati's oldest daughter and the child of his first wife, has since been gagged. Attempts to speak to her this week were fruitless as government spokes-person Percy Simelane and royal aides refused to give her number to the Mail & Guardian, nor would her mother.

The story was initially published by the Times of Swaziland but wasn't followed up. It is widely speculated that the paper was summoned to the palace by the king to explain why it had published a story that, one analyst said, had "stunned" and "infuriated" the royal family.

A source said the feeling within the palace was that the newspaper should have "exercised caution". One analyst based in Swaziland said the "king listened to the taped recording of the interview and was not too happy".

Women's rights groups could not have wished for a more important advocate than Princess Sikhanyiso, especially in relation to an institution that is central to official Swazi culture. Polygamy was enshrined into Swaziland's new Constitution as a man's right, earlier this year.

The Constitution signed into law by King Mswati -- who has 13 wives -- recognises "marriage through customary rites", which includes multiple partners. But it does not sanction forced marriage -- a practice known as kuteka, which is another Swazi tradition condemned by human rights groups.

Traditionalists have not been afraid to take on Princess Sikhanyiso. "Polygamy is not a fashion, it is part of our culture. I fail to understand how a person can have the guts to criticise it publicly," said Moi Moi Masilela, one of Mswati's appointees to Parliament.

Illustrating the traditionalists' views on sexual relations that so infuriate some Swazi women, Masilela submitted, "How does one satisfy a woman in bed? Once a woman conceives, it shows that she gets satisfaction."

An analyst said the general populace -- contrary to the royalists' view that this issue was beyond her depth -- felt that the princess, who is held up as a model to young Swazis, was "growing up and speaking her mind".

Another strand to the story is that the princess has directed her barbed remarks about polygamy at some of her father's wives. A number of the wives, it is believed, were annoyed by the remarks and refused to go to the recent traditional Lutsango dance ceremony. Lutsango is a regiment of older married women.

The muffled reaction, even from some human rights advocacy groups, shows that the princess's statements has touched a raw nerve.

Swaziland Action Group against Abuse spokesperson Hlobisile Dlamini said the group thought it was "not professional" to have an interview with "a child" on such an issue.

"She has placed herself in a risky situation because she has created a lot of controversy. This will affect her as an individual within the royal family," Dlamini said.

Nonetheless the group found her statement "responsible in that she, as a young role model, showed concern about the HIV pandemic" and the role that culture plays in the spread of this disease.

"It was a very responsible statement that needs to be articulated maturely," she said. -- Additional reporting by Irin

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