A new king is chosen according to the status of his mother, but the Royal Council also plays an important role. The king in effect runs Swaziland, the constitution guaranteeing him a say in all state matters, as well as in appointing and vetting all members of parliament and the senate.
The king is a strong cultural symbol in the identity of many, if not most, Swazi’s and uses this popularity of the symbolism of the monarchy to demand the allegiance of his subjects. The population is furthermore forced to partake in the various cultural events in relation to the monarch and the monarchy, as failure to do so can and will result in sanctions. Especially the king’s powers in relation to the allocation of land, as all public land is held “in trust” by him, mean that most Swazi’s can ill afford to be seen not to participate in these cultural events.
The present king, Mswati III, was crowned in 1986. The king is responsible for upholding the longest standing state of emergency in Africa. He presently has 14 wives, several of whom have been literally kidnapped on the streets of Mbabane or Manzini and held incommunicado for months. Although this may seen rather excessive, especially for a monarch who has preached abstinence and spoken out against adultery as solutions to quell the the AIDS pandemic, his father had over 100 wives! Whereas his father, Sobhuza II, was generally respected and seen as an excellent orator, the present king is generally perceived to be both intellectually and politically inferior to his father and is subsequently much less respected, even within his own government. The case of the king’s Minister of Justice and close personal friend, Mr. Mamba, committing adultery with his 12th wife in August 2010 is a well-documented example of this. Luckily, the king’s government is seemingly as incompetent, if not more so, than himself. In September 2010, the Minister of Finance, Majozi Sithole, reluctantly admitted that his ministry has spent E3 million to collect the same amount of money in tax. It was also revealed that the government would not be able to pay the salaries of its civil servants at the end of the month without additional loans.
As there are relatively few absolute monarchies left in the world, Mswati III has befriended several of the Middle East’s most notorious despots, including the Saudi king, in a bid to improve the financial and democratic standing of the country. Mswati III is also a good personal friend of the American Foreign Secretary, Hilary Clinton, as well as of the European Union.