Swazi King's Use of Ceremony to Choose Wives Sends Wrong Message About Country's HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Critics Say
September 8, 2003
A record 50,000 young Swazi women on Friday participated in the annual "Reed Dance," a traditional ceremony performed before Swaziland's leader King Mswati III that has come to be seen as an "audition" to become the king's next wife, Reuters reports. The king, who currently has 10 wives and one fiancee, has been criticized by health care workers because his practice of polygamy and choosing young brides could "send the wrong message" about the country's AIDS epidemic, which is one of the worst in the world, according to Reuters (Reuters, 9/5). Swazi Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini in January said that the country's official HIV prevalence had reached 38.6%, up from 34.2% in January 2002. The country now ranks behind only Botswana for the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/27). The Swaziland national AIDS project has said that the practice of polygamy and a reluctance to use condoms are largely responsible for the country's high HIV prevalence. In May 2002, Mswati urged all people in Swaziland to be tested for the virus and called the epidemic a "national disaster" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/3). In 2001, Mswati reinstated the "Umcwasho" chastity rite, in which men are barred from having sex with women who have undergone the rite and could be fined or ostracized as morally deviant for violating the rule. Last month, the Royal Palace announced that the king next year will marry Noliqhwa Ntentensa when she turns 18. Some AIDS and women's rights advocates have said that Mswati is violating his own order with his decision to take another young bride. Mswati last year paid a fine of five cows for breaking the chastity rule with another young bride (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/27). Mswati's father, King Sobhuza, had more than 100 wives (Wines, New York Times, 9/7).
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.