The Swaziland King has ordered widows to immediately remove their mourning gowns so that they can take part in his 50th birthday celebrations.
But at the same time it has been confirmed that widows cannot contest the forthcoming national election.
In Swaziland tradition has it that a widow must wear a mourning gown for two years after the death of her husband and then go through a cleansing ceremony.
Now, acting Ludzidzini governor Lusendvo Fakudze, who is known as the voice of the King, has ordered all widows to remove their mourning gowns with immediate effect. The King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, celebrates his 50th birthday on Thursday (19 April 2018.) So-called 50/50 Celebrations are planned on that day to mark his birthday and also the 50th anniversary of Swaziland’s Independence from Great Britain that falls on 6 September 2018.
The Ludzidzini governor is also know as the traditional prime minister and has more status in the kingdom than Barnabas Dlamini the man King Mswati appointed Prime Minister to lead the cabinet the King also hand-picked.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported on Wednesday (11 April 2018) the order came from the King and was communicated by Fakudze through state radio.
It reported him saying, ‘Women are expected to down their mourning gowns with immediate effect. This is done in preparation for the 50/50 celebrations.’
He also said that women who lost their husbands before the 50/50 celebrations were not expected to wear mourning gowns even after the celebrations.
The order contradicts a separate directive given by Fakudze that widows would not be allowed to stand in the national election that is due at a date later in 2018 yet to be set by the King. Fakudze told the Swazi Observer (12 April 2018) they would not be allowed to contest the election until they had been in mourning for two years and gone through a cleansing ceremony.
The newspaper reported, ‘Elections and Boundaries Commission Chairperson Chief Gija Dlamini also confirmed that women who lost their husbands could register for elections only after the two-year mourning period and cleansing ceremony.’
Coordinating Assembly for Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO) Communications Officer Nkosing’phile Myeni said the directive was unconstitutional. Section 28 of the Swaziland Constitution stated, ‘Women have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.’
The Swazi Observer reported on Friday (13 April 2018) he also said Section 28 (3) made provisions for women not to be compelled to observe cultural norms that they did not agree with. The section states, ‘A woman shall not be compelled to undergo or uphold any custom to which she is in conscience opposed.’