Swazi mom's suit to save daughter from king prompts 'crisis'

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

MBABANE, Swaziland -- A mother's lawsuit to prevent King Mswati III from marrying her daughter has infuriated the royal family and put it on a collision course with the judiciar of this nation in southern Africa.

"This is a national crisis," said Jan Sithole, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions.

But the royal family sees it as a simple case of an impertinent woman with no respect for tradition in a nation where the king is above the law.

"We have traditional forums where such issues should be addressed and we are surprised this woman decided to go to court," said Malamlela Magagula, a royal adviser.

Magagula also said the king wondered whether the mother was really a Swazi citizen.

The conflict began after Mswati's aides picked three women he spotted at the annual reed dance festival and took them to secret locations to become his newest wives.

Horrifying honor

Though many consider it an honor to have a child chosen to be a royal bride, Lindiwe Dlamini was horrified that her 18-year-old daughter Zena Zoraya Mahlangu was taken and decided to sue.

Since the case began last month, the royal family has repeatedly ignored the court, refusing on several occasions to let two women appointed by the court interview Mahlangu to determine if she wants to marry the king.

Dlamini also has not been allowed to contact her daughter.

Last week, Attorney-General Phesheya Dlamini, the national security chief, police commissioner and army commander visited Chief Justice Stanley Sapire and the two other judges hearing the case and demanded they either dismiss the lawsuit or resign.

They refused.

On Sunday, Mswati, 34, became engaged to Mahlangu, a step that all but sealed her fate to become his 10th wife.

The High Court still plans a hearing Tuesday on the suit.

Trade unionists, opposition groups, civic officials, lawyers and ordinary Swazis condemned the royal family's actions.

"Their conduct blatantly undermines the independence of the judiciary and directly interferes with the smooth administration of justice and the rule of law," the Law Society of Swaziland said.

Rights activists have condemned the king's policy of taking brides without asking the women's permission or talking to their families.

"Such a practice, Your Majesty, is degrading, dehumanizing and traumatic to the dignity and person of women folk," Vulindlela Msibi, president of the Human Rights Association of Swaziland, wrote in a letter to Mswati.

Amnesty International said the royal family's actions followed a long-standing pattern of discrimination against women in the southern African country of 1 million people.

"The king and his agents have violated the internationally recognized human rights of women and girls, including their right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right not to be subjected to forced marriage," the human rights group said.

Mswati can marry as often as he pleases. His father, King Sobuza II, who died in 1982, had more than 100 wives.

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