A Nigerian website has falsely claimed that girls and young women in Swaziland are forced to undergo public virginity tests before King Mswati III decides whether to take them as his wife.
The report has brought widespread condemnation from opponents and supporters of the King alike.
The website called Pulse published graphic pictures on 4 August 2015 that it claimed were of women undergoing virginity tests.
Although the pictures do show such tests, they do not show Swazi women. The photographs had previously appeared on a Malaysian-based website in 2009. They were used to illustrate a report saying ‘thousands of girls’ in South Africa ‘were queueing up each month to prove that they are virgins’.
It is thought the pictures might date from before 2009, possible as early as 2001.
The Nigerian website Pulse used the pictures to mount an attack on King Mswati. It reported. ‘Now, photos have been released showing under aged girls being publicly checked to ascertain that their virginity was still intact.
‘All this was done in a bid to help King Mswati choose a wife.’
One photograph was captioned, ‘Under aged girls publicly undergoing virginity tests before King Mswati can choose a bride.’
The report added, ‘Many consider this barbaric and backward but it seems to be a tradition the people willingly live by.’
The publication of the report caused fury on social media. Many of the writers were not supporters of King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and political and civil rights are severely curtailed in his kingdom.
Even people who oppose the King politically wrote to support Swaziland and its people.
One person wrote, ‘As much as we are against the regime but this is not true and these aren't Swazis in this picture.’
Another person who posted a comment on the Pulse website said, ‘I am no advocate of my country but this post is b******t.’
One reader attacked the writer of the report saying, ‘If you're looking for something to criticize about this beautiful land, let it be on truth and well established facts.’
King Mswati is often criticised in the international media and on the Internet for his lavish lifestyle. He has a private jet aircraft, fleets of BMW and Mercedes cars and 13 palaces. He regularly travels in opulent style across the world.
Meanwhile, seven in ten of his 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 a day.