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Topless virgins vie for king in AIDS-hit Swaziland

This is really over-the-top. A continent swept in HIV, and this idiot is promoting a godawful pageant of narcissism.

More than 50,000 bare-breasted virgins vied to become the King of Swaziland’s 13th wife on Monday in a ceremony which critics say ill befits a country with the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate. King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, arrived dressed in a leopard-skin loincloth to watch the Reed Dance ceremony, which he has used since 1999 to pluck new brides from the girls dressed in little more than beaded mini-skirts.

Wielding machetes and singing tributes to the king and queen mother, also known as the Great She-Elephant, the girls danced around the royal stadium in the hope of catching the eye of the 37-year-old monarch. “I want to live a nice life, have money, be rich, have a BMW and cellphone,” said one dancer, 16-year-old Zodwa Mamba, who wore a traditional brightly coloured tasselled scarf.

Critics say Mswati, who has courted controversy for his lavish lifestyle while two thirds of his subjects live in abject poverty, sets a bad example by encouraging polygamy and teenage sex in a country where 40 percent of adults live with HIV.

Some say the Reed Dance, traditionally meant to celebrate womanhood and virginity, has become little more than a showcase for the king’s young would-be brides. “The Reed Dance has been abused for one man’s personal satisfaction,” Mario Masuku, leader of the banned opposition party, told Reuters. “The king has a passion for young women and opulence.”

There is a revealing profile of this high-living king in the News Telegraph from January:

After banning sex and spending millions on palaces for beauty-queen wives, Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, faced rare popular protest yesterday when Swaziland’s underground opposition called a general strike.

Last year, the king spent £8.3 million on building eight palaces and refurbishing three existing ones. He bought a state-of-the-art Maybach car for £260,000 and invited 10,000 people to his 36th birthday party, spending £330,000 on the festivities.

Swaziland is a country that could spring from the pages of Evelyn Waugh. Like the Emperor Seth in Black Mischief, King Mswati is a British-educated despot with scant regard for the desperate poverty of his people.

The catalyst for the protests in the midst of his seclusion was the release of a draft constitution guaranteeing his eternal dominance. This long-awaited document had been viewed as a chance for a gradual move towards a constitutional monarchy. Instead, the draft gives the king legal immunity for any wrongdoing and article 65 states emphatically: “The executive authority of Swaziland vests in the king.”

“This draft constitution would make the king the worst kind of dictator,” said Jan Sithole, secretary-general of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions, who called the general strike. “There is no restraint on the king and no democracy at all.”

Thanks to Blender David for the pointer.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding