The Tenth Wife

Not Just Another Wedding: Teen Bride's Mom Fights A King

This is the story of a mother who went to pick up her daughter at school one day, but couldn't find her anywhere. Her daughter had been abducted out of the school by the country's king, who took her to be his 10th wife. Lara Logan reports.

It is not a fairy tale. It happened to Lindiwe Dlamini, and her daughter Zena, in the southern African kingdom of Swaziland, where no one has ever before challenged the right of the king to marry whomever he pleases.

"This is just a cry of a mother who is losing her daughter. That is all that it is about. And all that I want is my daughter back," says Lindiwe, a single mother with three children. Zena, 18, is her only daughter.

"On the day when she disappeared, I took her to school in the morning dropped her where she was preparing for her exams and when I left her, I told her that I would be coming back to pick her up that afternoon," says Lindiwe.

When she arrived, Zena wasn't there. Her mother became frantic.That night, Lindiwe found out her daughter had been taken for the king.

In Swaziland, one of Africa's oldest monarchies, the king's power is absolute. The kingdom is about the size of New Jersey, tucked within the borders of South Africa. The king rules according to unwritten customs and traditions. He can have as many wives as he wants. And he decided he wanted Lindiwe's daughter as his 10th.

The king's aides found Zena here at her school. Witnesses say two men grabbed her and were seen forcing her into a waiting car. Zena appeared to be resisting. The last time they saw her, she was in the back seat sandwiched between the two men as the car sped away.

To find out more, Logan went to the palace to ask the king about Zena. To her surprise, he agreed to talk. He says he chose Zena the way he normally chooses a wife.

King Mswati III was one of 250 children. His father, King Sobhuza II had close to 100 wives. After his father's death, Mswati became the world's youngest ruling monarch when he was crowned on April 25, 1986. He was only 18 and already had his first wife, Inkhosikati Lambikiza.

"I knew that he was going to take other wives after me. It was just something I had to learn to live with," says Lambikiza. That process was hard, she says.

She is 33 now. She was 16 when the king chose her after he saw her at a ceremony called the reed dance, an annual event that's one of Swaziland's biggest traditional celebrations. The king sees it as an excellent opportunity to find new brides.

How does the king manage to juggle his time and his marital responsibilities?

"I think you should be asking him this now," Lambikiza says with a laugh. "I don't know either how it's supposed to work. I don't believe he has a schedule. So I think it's haphazard."

If Zena becomes a royal bride, her life will no longer be her own. Her mother says Zena had dreams of being a psychologist and having a normal family life.

When Zena attended this year's reed dance for the first time, she had no idea it might lead to marriage. Her boyfriend went with her, and so did 30,000 other girls. Until now the king has chosen only one of his wives at the reed dance. But Zena caught his eye, and soon afterwards, he started calling her.

Lindiwe talked to her daughter about his interest. "She wasn't interested in all this. It really was tormenting her," she says.

But the king ordered that Zena be brought to his palace. So, Lindiwe took her daughter and fled the country. Then they got word from a member of the royal family that Swazi tradition forbids the monarch from marrying a twin. Zena, who has a twin brother, thought that meant she could never be a royal bride.

But apparently that was not true. The king said he was not aware of that obstacle.

After Zena was abducted, her mother did something no other Swazi citizen has ever done. She took the palace to court and demanded the return of her daughter. Because the king is above the law, she sued the two men who physically took Zena on his behalf.

Now she has the entire resources of the state, from the national army to the monarchy, against her. "I don't really think there's anything they can do to me because they have wronged me. It's not like I have stood up to criticize the king for his ruling or anything like that. No, it's not about politics, it's not about the country. It's just about me and my family," says Lindiwe.

But Lindiwe's plight has highlighted the inequality of Swazi women under the law. Women can't own land or even apply for a passport without a husband or father's permission. Forced marriages are not uncommon or illegal in Swazi traditional culture. But urban, educated Swazis find the practice outdated. International rights' groups have criticized forced marriage as an act of violence against women.

Doo Aphane, a lawyer, mother, and director of the Women in Law Advocacy group, stands firmly behind Zena's mom, but says many Swazi people are afraid to do the same. "Our king is an absolute monarch. The mouth that never lies. So it becomes really beyond their comprehension that they can criticize anything that the king has allegedly done. And therefore it becomes a foregone conclusion that she should simply give up and forget about her daughter," Aphane says.

Even the king's first wife seems sympathetic to Zena's mother: "I don't blame her for what she's done, because she did it for reasons best known to her and best known to any other mother who'd want to do the same thing," says Lambikiza.

For Lindiwe, this case is not about marriage. It's about the way Zena, a minor, was taken, without her consent.

Logan asked the king whether Zena was abducted "Maybe the matter of—understanding it well in our culture," he said. "Others when they see someone saying 'Oh, I feel so sad about my kid. I don't know what's going to happen,' they would interpret that, that she is saying words like this. Whereas in the case, in the reality, it is not like that."

The king sees nothing wrong with the way things are done. For him, polygamy is a royal birthright. But not everyone is as tied to the tradition as he is, including Lambikiza. She says that in the future polygamy will probably not exist: "People more and more are beginning to question its authenticity, and the fact that we have HIV/AIDS now."

AIDS, she says, is a big issue in Swaziland: "It's alarming. Every four in 10 people now are infected with AIDS." Even the king is apparently aware. He allegedly had Zena tested for AIDS shortly after she was brought to the palace – something her mother did not know until Logan told her.

The palace has blocked Lindiwe's lawsuit at every turn. Lawyers sent by the court were prevented from talking to Zena. The attorney general, who is appointed by the king, ordered the judges to drop the case, but they refused.

The king says that eventually, Zena will see her mother. I think it's a matter of making the arrangements at the right time," he says. Asked if Zena could be interviewed, he said it was not up to him, but to "protocol."

"It's amazing, sometimes protocol is in charge of the king," he said.

Protocol refused an interview request for Zena. But on the day Logan met the king, he appeared in public with his new fiancé for the first time. Zena won't become his wife until she's pregnant.

So after months, her mother finally saw her daughter – but only in the newspaper. Traditional red and black tassels dangled from Zena's hair – a sign she now belongs to a man. The next morning, at a church service at one of the palaces, the king appeared. Seated next to two of his wives was Zena. To Logan, she looked overwhelmed.

Two weeks later, King Mswati announced he was taking his 11th wife – Noliqhwa Ntentesa, also 18.

After Zena appeared in public as the king's official fiancé, her mother gave up the fight and asked the court to postpone the case indefinitely.
  • David Kohn

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