The twelfth wife of King Mswati III has accused Africa's last absolute monarch of throwing her out of Swaziland's royal household after imprisoning her for a year over an alleged affair with a government minister.
Nothando Dube, a former Miss Swaziland who married the King when she was 16, told South African media she was ejected from the palace after pepper spraying a security guard who refused to let her take her son to seek medical help. The 23-year-old, who has had three children with the polygamous monarch and is known as Inkhosikati [Queen] LaDube, said she had been kept under house arrest after pictures were published last year that claimed to prove she had relations with the Justice Minister, Ndumiso Mamba, who was later fired.
The revelations of scandal come after recent appeals to the International Monetary Fund to bail out the mountain kingdom that activists claim the King has bankrupted with lavish spending.
In addition to a private jet and the world's most expensive limousine, the Maybach, Mswati has made an annual event out of selecting a new bride, with hundreds of young Swazi virgins made to dance for him before a selection is made. His 13 wives to date have each been given their own palace.
LaDube told South Africa's Sunday Times that she had been forced to leave her home and children behind following the incident with the security guard.
She said she had been prevented from taking her two-year-old to a hospital after he was hurt in an accident. "[The guard] threatened to hit me, saying I am not going anywhere with my child, who was bleeding from a deep wound," she said. "I had to protect myself, so I [pepper-]sprayed him in the eyes."
The row was seized upon by the opposition, with Lucky Lukhele, spokesman for the Swaziland Solidarity Network, criticising the King for LaDube's "brutal eviction".
Mswati has refused all calls for reforms, banned political parties and harassed trade unions while overseeing a financial collapse of his country.
Tens of thousands of Swazi civil servants have gone unpaid for long periods and the kingdom is hoping to stave off a complete collapse after securing a $343m (£217m) bailout from neighbouring South Africa.
With growing external calls for reform – including one from the IMF – there have been increasing signs of strain on the royal household. The monarch reshuffled his cabinet last month in a move authorities claimed was to address the crisis, but which critics alleged was a settling of scores within the feuding Swazi elite. The courts in the kingdom have been paralysed by the repeated firing of justice ministers, with three sacked in the last year alone.
Mswati's appeals to South Africa and the IMF have been roundly criticised by the opposition, who claim the King controls assets worth many times more than the sums needed to refloat the Swazi economy.
Absolute monarch: little luxuries
* Automobiles Mswati has frequently splashed out on top-of-the-range cars. He was once reported to have spent $500,000 on a vehicle. His Mercedes S600 Pullman came equipped with a TV, a DVD player, a fridge and a 21-speaker sound system.
* Parties To mark the "40-40" anniversary – the king's 40th birthday and four decades of independence – Mswati spent about $12.5m (£8m), building a bespoke stadium for the occasion (and ordering another fleet of cars).
* Shopping The king chartered a jet to send nine of his wives on a shopping spree to Europe and the Middle East. The trip so incensed Mswati's critics that hundreds of women marched through the capital in protest.