IndexAfricaSouth Africa → Swasi


Also featured: Zulu, Basuto, Tswana, Bovale, Pedi, Lemba, Xhosa, Xesibe, Tshidi Barolong, Venda, Fingo, Lobedu; ®!Xo

Kuper (1973:p351)[1] observed how clothing provides “a visible mode of social control outlining sexual morality”:


“[c]hildren until weaned (in the third year) have their bodies most fully exposed. Recognized as sexually innocent, they have nothing to hide. Their nakedness reveals their purity at the same time that grown men and women are permitted to comment on both the physical beauty and sexual potential. When slightly older (approximately 3-6) sex differentiation is made culturally conspicuous. Little girls may continue to wear only a string of beads around the hips and little boys may be given a lijobo, a garment of two triangular flaps, one before and one aft[er], cut from the pelt of a specific wild animal. […] From before puberty the genitals are conspicuously hidden”.


In Swasiland, “[t]here are overlapping stages and categories of sexual relationships, which often begin with traditional puberty rites that may be regarded as legitimizing sexual activity, and are often followed by several subsequent stages of pre-marital relations[2]. Barker (1965:p94-5)[3] notes:


“Since he slept in the same hut as his parents, Manjenga knew as a child what was meant by sexual love-making. When he reached the age of puberty he moved from his mother’s into the bachelor’s hut on the outskirts of the kraal, and was permitted-indeed, encouraged- to start love-making himself, within certain limits. Swazi parents instruct their children in a kind of sexual activity between boy and girl without actual intercourse, known as kujuma. Full sexual penetration before marriage is considered shameful, all the more so if the girl is made pregnant”.


Mndebele (1998)[4]provided some data concerning the age of first homosexual experience and age of homosexual partner.



Sex Ban


In September 2001, King Mswati III argued in favour of all teenage girls “wearing red tassels as a show of their virginity and avoid shaking hands with men”[5]. This may have been a traditional custom[6]. Girls were told to wear woolen tassels called "umcwasho" to symbolise their purity[7]. Some weeks later he stunned the country by taking a 17-year-old schoolgirl as his eighth wife[8]. Princess Sikhanyiso Dlamini, 14, who then attended school in Britain at the weekend, said she came back for the holidays to encourage reluctant girls to take the Umchwasho chastity pledge for unmarried women under 23[9]. Announced by the leader of Swaziland's young women, Lungile Ndlovu, “[…] women who were in relationships and older than 19 years would be expected to wear red with black tassels, and those still virgins will wear blue with yellow.”[10] Gradually, the headgear began to appear in rural areas and towns. Girls would wear the umcwasho to schools. The greatest enthusiasm was found in bands of girls who acted as vigilantes, patrolling their neighbourhoods to see which girl had fallen pregnant[11].


“The purpose of the tassels is to make virgins recognizable and warn Swazi men to stay away from the maidens. The law forbids women under the age of 19 to make any physical sexual contact with men, including handshakes, and allows limited sexual contact, but not intercourse, for women over the age of nineteen (Haworth). Severe fines and social ostracism serve as pumishment [sic] for violators”[12].


In 2005 the King has ended a five-year sex ban he imposed on the kingdom's teenage girls a year early[13].


Further reading:


§         Booth, Margaret Zoller (2003) “You learn and learn and learn…. and then you are an adult”: parental perceptions of adolescence in contemporary Swaziland, Adolescence vol.38, n°150. Also presented at 2003 AERA Annual Meeting

§         http://www.interpol.int/Public/Children/SexualAbuse/NationalLaws/csaSwaziland.asp




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Aug 2005



[1]Kuper, H. (1973) Costume and identity, Comparat Stud in Soc & Hist 15:348-67

[2] Warren, Ch. W., Johnson, J. T., Gule, G., Hlophe, E. & Kraushaar, D. (1992) The Determinants of Fertility in Swaziland, Populat Stud 46,1:5-17, at p6

[3] Barker, D. (1965) Swaziland. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office

[4] Mndebele, N. E. (1998) Swaziland Sondary/ High School Students’ Risks That May Promote HIV Infection and the Spread of AIDS. National Curriculum Centre

[5] Matsebula, Bh. (2001) Swaziland dissent over no-sex ban, BBC News, 26 October, 2001 [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1621459.stm]; Swazi King sex ban, BBC News, 17 September, 2001 [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1548822.stm]; King bans sex for young girls, United Press International, 19 September 2001 [http://www.aegis.com/news/upi/2001/UP010904.html]; Sex ban for young Swazi women provokes side effects, African Online Services (afrol.com), November 26, 2001 [http://www.aegis.com/news/afrol/2001/AO011101.html]; Swaziland imposes a five-year sex ban on young women, Agence France-Presse - September 17, 2001 [http://www.aegis.com/news/afp/2001/AF010953.html]; Leclerc-Madlala, S. (2003) Protecting girlhood? Virginity revivals in the era of AIDS, Agenda 56:16-25 [http://www.agenda.org.za/Suzanne.pdf]

[6] Traditional chastity vow may have lowered teenage HIV rates, IRINnews.org, 23 Aug 2005 [http://irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=48714]

[7] Shongwe, Th. (2003) Mswati Takes Eleventh Bride, Criticised for Breaking Rules, Inter Press Service - August 29, 2003 [http://www.aegis.com/news/ips/2003/IP030821.html]

[8] Mthetwa, Th. (2001) Swazi king takes eighth wife King, BBC News, 28 September, 2001 [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1568163.stm]

[9] Swaziland-AIDS-virginity: Swazi royal family brings back princess to promote chastity vows, Agence France-Presse - December 17, 2001 [http://www.aegis.com/news/afp/2001/AF0112B5.html]

[10] Southern African News Features. September 2001 Issue No.18 [http://www.sardc.net/editorial/sanf/2001/iss18/newsbrief.html]

[11] Hall, J. (2002a) Maidens' Chastity Vows, a Year Later, Inter Press Service - October 4, 2002 [http://www.aegis.com/news/ips/2002/IP021005.html]. Cf. Hall, J. (2002b) Chastity Rules for Unmarried Women Yield Mixed Results, Inter Press Service - June 7, 2002 [http://www.aegis.com/news/ips/2002/IP020603.html]

[12] Taylor, Sasha E. A. (June 12, 2003) The Worldwide AIDS Pandemic: AIDS in South Africa. International Policy Formation White Paper, p3 [http://www.martin.uidaho.edu/InternationalStudies/Whitepapers/White_Paper_AIDS_in_SA.pdf]

[13] Swazi king drops sex-ban tassels, BBC News, August 19, 2005