A young woman is seeking asylum in Britain after she spurned the advances of the polyamorous King Mswati III of Swaziland and refused to join his harem of 13 wives.
Tintswalo Ngobeni, 22, fled to England from the southern African nation as a teenager after she caught the attention of the millionaire monarch, a notoriously oppressive ruler known for his lavish lifestyle.
As part of Swazi custom, King Mswati III, 45, is permitted to choose a new bride every year.
Miss Ngobeni, who now lives in Birmingham, was just 15 when the King made his advances after seeing her at the palace of his fourth wife, LaNgangaza. She said she was ‘terrified’ when she learned of his marriage intentions.
She added: ‘He started calling me at boarding school. He would ask me if I wanted to be a part of the royal family. I had to keep quiet about my fears but I knew I didn’t want to get married to him and have a life devoted to the king.
‘His wives are kept in their palace, surrounded by bodyguards, and they can’t really go anywhere unless the king says so. The only thing they do is go to America once a year, as the king gives them a shopping allowance.’
The Reed Dance ceremony, pictured, is known as Umhlanga and sees thousands of Swaziland’s ‘prettiest virgins’ dance topless for King Mswati III, every August, hoping to be his next wife.
Miss Ngobeni was forced to abandon a comfortable lifestyle in a private boarding school as her aunt, who was her chief guardian, arranged the escape to England to join her mother, who moved to Birmingham five years earlier, fleeing an abusive husband.
‘I didn’t have a choice,’ she said. ‘Nobody has ever turned down the king or dares to disobey him, so I just disappeared.’
Since her arrival in England, Miss Ngobeni has become a vocal opponent of the oppressive Swazi regime, where political opposition parties are banned and activists routinely arrested or assaulted.
However, Miss Ngobeni’s high-profile activities, including weekly protests outside the Swazi embassy in London with activist group Swazi Vigil, have caught the attention of the authorities in her home country and she now believes she is in more danger than ever.
She said: ‘Recently I had news that people had been sent from Swaziland to come and get me, which really scares me. If I went back, I would be arrested or much worse as there are people there who are tortured, beaten up or killed for being politically active.’
Miss Ngobeni now lives in fear of having to return to Swaziland, after her first plea for political asylum in England in 2007 was denied in 2011.
Last month, she was arrested and taken to an immigration detention centre after 18 months of reporting weekly to the authorities.
However, after pressure from the TUC and the office of Roger Godsiff, Labour MP for Birmingham, Miss Ngobeni was released and has now been granted an appeal by the Home Office.
Mr Godsiff said yesterday: ‘We were very pleased solicitors were successful in achieving a judicial review into Miss Ngobeni’s case.’ The father of 27 children, King Mswati III was a guest at the William and Kate wedding as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations last summer. The king’s sixth wife escaped from the royal harem last year, citing years of ‘emotional and physical abuse’ by her husband.