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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 17:07 GMT
Swazis queue for Valentine's gift
King Mswati's fiancee wearing chastity tassel
Despite Valentine's Day, celibacy is still expected
Love-struck Swazis formed long queues at newspaper stalls in the capital Mbabane early on Thursday after the Times newspaper advertised a free mystery Valentine's gift.

Tucked inside each copy was a condom lovingly sealed in white, red and green attached to a colourful greeting card to all lovers.

The newspaper's centre page showed large provocative photos of smiling Swazi beauties holding up condoms.

"We are ready for a happy safe Valentine's Day. Are you?" read the caption.

Now that more than a third of Swazis have tested positive for HIV/Aids, the BBC's Tom Holloway said the safe sex message for this tiny African kingdom could not have been clearer.

Love messages

Aids fears aside, both of Swaziland's dailies - The Times and the Observer - gave unprecedented coverage to this year's Valentine's Day.
King Mswati III
The king is Africa's last absolute monarch

Apart from the front pages, most of Thursday's editions were filled with emotionally charged love messages and viewpoints from a cross-section of Swazis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, older readers showed little interest in what one man called "this lovey-dovey hoo-hah".

One taxi driver wondered what all the fuss was about.

"Ask my wife, maybe she will know," he said.

Among the few members of the Swazi royal family to comment on the love-fest, Home Affairs Minister Prince Sobandla said his wife would be satisfied with a kiss.

The wife of Prince Lonkhokhela was hoping for slightly more in the shape of a plate of grilled prawns and a bottle of wine.

Tassle trouble

One section of the population unlikely to participate fully in Cupid's delights are the kingdom's under-18 girls.

Last September, King Mswati III revived a traditional law on chastity and banned sex for young girls to preserve virginity and halt the spread of HIV/Aids.

Under ancient Swazi tradition girls under 18 are expected to wear a set of blue and yellow "do not touch me" tassels.

Older girls observing chastity have to wear red and black tassels.

Africa's last remaining absolute monarch announced at the end of his 33rd birthday party that for five years maidens would be expected not to shake hands "with males, nor wear pants".

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Africa
Sex-ban Swazi king pays fine
26 Oct 01 | Africa
Swaziland dissent over no-sex ban
17 Sep 01 | Africa
Swazi King sex ban
28 Sep 01 | Africa
Swazi king takes eighth wife
31 Aug 00 | Africa
No new bride for Swazi king
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Swaziland
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