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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Swazi women fear losing their trousers
One of King Mswati III's fiancées wearing a tassel
Tassels are supposed to deter under-age sex
Women in Swaziland are expressing concern after a reported warning by a senior official that if they wear trousers they may be torn off by soldiers.

The senior official in the royal household said trousers were disrespectful to Swaziland's traditions, Reuters news agency reported, though he acknowledged that younger princesses in the extensive royal family were among the worst culprits.


If any of us dare wear pants, the soldiers will strip us naked.

Mbabane resident Mary Dlamini

"Soldiers from the army will patrol for offenders... They have been instructed to strip the trousers from women in pants, and tear them to pieces," a resident of the capital, Mbabane, quoted the offical as saying.

"If any of use dare wear pants, the soldiers will strip us naked," Mary Dlaminini, 22, said after listening to Jim Gama, the senior official in the royal household, who addressed local people at a special meeting.

Mr Gama said the ban applies to women residing in, or visiting the Royal Village, and the nearby Royal Residence of the King's Late Father, King Sobhuza 11.

Human rights activists have accused the Swazi authorities of oppressing women. Swaziland is one of the world's last remaining absolute monarchies and has a reputation for being extremely conservative.

'Medieval'

"The dictates about what women can and cannot wear is medieval but unfortunately reflects the fact that women are legal minors in Swaziland," Doo Apane, an attorney with the Swaziland branch of Women in Law in Southern Africa said.

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

King Mswati III
Swaziland's king has tried to reintroduce ancient traditions

But the royal edict has faced growing opposition from parents who have refused to get their children to wear tassels, designed as chastity belts, until the king's own daughters comply with the traditional custom.

The king had also said maidens should not shake hands with men or wear trousers for five years.

Last November, the king bowed to pressure from angry young women and fined himself a cow for violating the chastity vow he had imposed on the rest of the country.

In a very unusual demonstration, 300 young Swazi women had gathered outside the royal palace and symbolically laid down their ceremonial tassels.

They were showing how angry they were that King Mswati III had broken his own rules.

Double standards

The king, soon after he decreed the ban, had announced he was to marry a 17-year-old girl.

Resentment among Swazi women grew when they learned that his fiancée was living at the royal palace.

Any man who breaks the cultural ban is fined an animal, such as a cow, or is liable to pay a fine.

Earlier this month, King Mswati married once again, bringing the total number of his official wives to nine.

He wedded Nontsetselelo Magongo, an 18-year-old girl forced to leave school last year amid protests from human rights and anti-child abuse institutions in Swaziland and abroad.

See also:

03 Jun 02 | Africa
14 Feb 02 | Africa
12 Nov 01 | Africa
26 Oct 01 | Africa
28 Sep 01 | Africa
17 Sep 01 | Africa
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
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