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Friday, 2 May 2014

HOW SWAZI KING MSWATI WAS MADE

A lot of people in Swaziland believe that God chose King Mswati III to be king.

And, because of this divine intervention, the king has special abilities and wisdom. For that reason, his word must be obeyed. Those who speak against the King, speak also against God.

Well that’s the theory. And it is very convenient for those close to the power of the King to allow this falsehood to gather ground in Swaziland. After all, some people might want to criticise a King, but who can dare criticise a God?

Of course, King Mswati wasn’t chosen by God. A political group plotting within the ruling elite of Swaziland chose him.


Unlike in many societies that still have monarchs, in Swaziland the eldest child (often only the son is eligible) of a deceased monarch doesn’t simply become king once the reigning monarch dies. In Swaziland, the King is said to be chosen by virtue of the rank and character of his mother in accordance with Swazi law and custom.

But the part of Swazi law and custom relating to the selection of a successor to a king is unknown to a majority of ordinary Swazi. 

The story of how King Mswati, who was known as Prince Makhosetive as a child, became the monarch goes like this, according to one biography

‘King Sobhuza II had deftly managed to hold rivalling power factions within the royal ruling alliance in check, and so his death in August 1982, left a power vacuum.’

At this time Makhosetive was 15 years old and a schoolboy at Sherborne in England.

‘In keeping with tradition, Makhosetive’s appointment by his father was not publicly announced. Before his death the King had chosen one of his queens, the childless Princess Dzeliwe, to preside over the monarchy as regent until the prince turned 21 years of age. 

‘It was in keeping with tradition that she be childless, so that she would not involve herself in a factional struggle to advance the position of her own son. Factional quarrels broke out into the open, however, in the interregnum period, while the prince was [at school] in the United Kingdom. 

‘Continuing disputes led members of the Liqoqo, a supreme traditional advisory body, to force the Queen Regent to resign. In her stead the Liqoqo appointed Queen Ntombi, Prince Makhosetive’s mother, who initially refused to take up the position.

Further disputes between royal factions led to his coronation as King Mswati III, at the age of 18, in April 1986, three years earlier than expected.

At the time, the King was the youngest monarch in the world. 

‘Observers saw the early coronation as an attempt on the part of the Liqoqo to legitimate the usurpation of Dzeliwe and consolidate their gains in power. Prince Makhosetive, now King Mswati III, acted quickly however to disband the Liqoqo and call for parliamentary elections.

In May 1986 Mswati dismissed the Liqoqo, the traditional advisory council to regents, which had assumed greater powers than were customary. In July 1986 he dismissed and charged with treason Prime Minister Prince Bhekimpi and several government officials for their role in the ejection of Queen Regent Dzeliwe, though he eventually pardoned those who were convicted.

Another biography of King Mswati says, ‘King Mswati’s first two years of rule were characterized by a continuing struggle to gain control of the government and consolidate his rule.

‘Immediately following his coronation, Mswati disbanded the Liqoqo and revised his cabinet appointments. In October 1986 Prime Minister Bhekimpi Dlamini was dismissed and for the first time a nonroyal, Sotsha Dlamini, was chosen for the post.

‘Prince Bhekimpi and 11 other important Swazi figures were arrested in June 1987. [Prince] Mfanasibili, [Prince] Bhekimpi, and eight others were convicted of high treason. Eight of those convicted, however, were eventually pardoned.

In 2011, court papers relating to the treason trial that was held in secret come to light after 23 years. The papers that had been deliberately removed from Swaziland after the trial in 1987 were unearthed in Namibia. 

They have not been released to the public and might contain details about the plotting that surrounded King Mswati’s rise to power. The papers might also remind the King’s subjects that he is really only where he is today because of political intrigue.

See also

SCHOOLBOOK REVEALS ROYAL FAMILY RIFT

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