Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Africa: Thousands of bare-breasted young Swazi women paraded themselves in front of their king in a lavish ceremony to celebrate chastity and unity

Dressed in beaded skirts, clutching machetes and mobile phones, women and girls danced and sang tributes to the king and queen mother - also known as the Great She-Elephant - in a traditional Umhlanga Reed Dance to celebrate womanhood and virginity. The extravagant celebrations took place in one of Africa's poorest countries, ruled by the continent's last absolute monarch. King Mswati III, who has at least a dozen wives and a personal fortune estimated at $200 million, faced unprecedented protests in 2011 when his appointed administration ran out of money after a 2009 recession in neighboring South Africa. Despite the tough economic climate, the royal household has shown few signs of wanting to tighten its belt. In July 2012, three of Mswati's wives joined a 66-strong royal entourage heading to Las Vegas on a shopping spree. In the past, the king has used the ceremony to choose a new wife, and some girls still hoped to catch the king's eye. New royal wives have often received a BMW and their own palace, fuelling criticism in a country where more than two-thirds of its 1.4 million people live in abject poverty. Women's groups and political opponents say that Mswati's penchant for multiple young brides is out of touch in a country with the world's highest rate of HIV/AIDS.

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