Born into a life of service. That’s how Princess Sikhanyiso Dlamini, the firstborn of Eswatini’s new generation of royals, describes her life.
The princess, the eldest of King Mswati III’s 36 children, also serves as the country’s minister of information and communication technology.
Her father, who has been on the throne since his 18th birthday, is the last absolute monarch on the African continent. This makes him not only her father and king, but also her employer. Despite describing her relationship with her father as quite formal from a young age, Princess Sikhaniyso’s admiration for him is quite clear.
“I would refer to him as the wisest person I know, as an inventory of information,” she told ABC News. “He has avid experience in leadership and exposure to different cultures and world fora where he has been representing Africa. He’s become a reference point even for world leaders.”
Although she has been very vocal in her criticism of her father’s polygamy in the past, her views on the matter have mellowed with time.
“My understanding of men now is different from what I thought before,” she said. “When you don’t know that other people exist then you can’t take precautions … I’ve learned a lot since I was younger, since I’ve grown older and my opinions have been altered.”
According to an aide, King Mswati III, who has been married 15 times, currently has 10 wives. He rules by decree and has faced scathing criticism from rights groups, trade unions and the media, especially for his lavish lifestyle. There’s also increasing demand for political reform. His daughter downplays the detractions.
“So much has been said about the king. So much has been said about Eswatini,” she noted. “The propaganda out there, the narrative out there is contrary to the situation on the ground. In every home you have your children who are obedient, your children who are disobedient, you have those that are disruptive and who want to make noise and create a story that is not actually there … I’m not really sure what those people are referring to. But for how [the people] view the king, they view him as a father figure, as a spiritual figure. They see the king as somebody reachable, loving and caring.”
Succession is not something that is openly discussed in Eswatini. According to the princess: “In other monarchies, that conversation is normal and specific. In Eswatini, that conversation is sacred. The succession process in Eswatini is both hereditary and elective. The House of Dlamini dynasty goes as far back as 400 years ago and it is an undisturbed line, so it will be somebody … who is born from the House of Dlamini. A male.”
A little known fact about the small landlocked kingdom is that King Mswati jointly rules with his mother, Queen Ntfombi. By tradition, the king reigns with his mother or a ritual substitute, the Ndlovukati (literal meaning She-Elephant). The former was viewed as the administrative head of state and the latter as a spiritual and national head of state, with real power counterbalancing that of the king. But during the long reign of Sobhuza II, the role of the Ndlovukati became more symbolic.
Educated at St Edmund’s College in the U.K. and the University of Sydney, Princess Sikhanyiso puts her master’s degree in digital communication to good use in her role as minister of information and communication technology. She also studied drama at Biola University in California. It is, however, her role as mother that she enjoys most at the moment. Baby Phikolwezwe “Phiko” Kukhanya Phasika Elihu Dlamini turned 1 on April 10. He is the king’s seventh grandchild.
Sikhanyiso said “motherhood is the best experience yet. I have a new earned respect for women, the sacrifices that we make for our children … you have to juggle everything at the same time."
She went on, "I also appreciate the role of men … in childrearing we should all play our part. I have a renewed impetus, even in the workplace, to say I want to make Eswatini a better Eswatini for my son and the generations to come -- for him to grow up in a different Eswatini that is more advanced, economically and holistically.”
As if the roles of royal, minister and mother isn’t enough, Princess Sikhanyiso is also an aspiring actress and rapper known as "Pashu" in Eswatini. During her brief stay in Malaysia for an internship program, she recorded a single titled "Hail Your Majesty" in honor of her father.
She said, “I suppose most royals have the artistic side to them. We have those that play musical instruments, some do sport, some join the army. People would tell me I have a mellifluous voice and so I thought to branch into rapping and I thought it was a way to express myself because, you know, when you grow up in the palace it is an isolated life really .... so I needed to find an outlet somewhere and I didn’t have a diary so my diary was my pen and the studio.”
For now, though, she only raps in the shower.
“To be honest if I wasn’t so preoccupied with all the formal work, I would love to pursue a rap career," she admitted. "I actually wanted to when I was in the States but our roles and responsibilities had us confined to just simply academia. But I would love to – Timberland can you hear me?”