(AFP / Gianluigi Guercia)

eSwatini says fake polygamy story is an 'insult' to king and country

The government of eSwatini has angrily denied online reports that King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch who has 14 wives, had ordered men to have at least two marriages or face jail.

The story, which was carried by several online publications -- we've archived a few of the articles here, here and here -- said that Swazi men would have to marry several wives starting from June.

A screenshot taken on May 15, 2019 shows the false report carried on the GH Gossip website

As well as 14 wives, King Mswati has more than 25 children and a reputation for lavish spending while 63 percent of his 1.3 million subjects in the kingdom formerly known as Swaziland live in poverty.

The story, first published on Monday by the Zambian Observer -- which has since taken the story down -- said the government would sponsor marriage ceremonies and offer houses to men who entered into polygamous marriages.

It said the king "has declared in... Swaziland that men will from June 2019 be required to marry at least two or more wives or be jailed if they fail to do so".

Government spokesman Percy Simelane called the story "malicious" and "poisonous".

"His Majesty has not made any pronouncement to that effect as it has never been an issue raised" by the people, Simelane said.

He said the story was "not only an insult to the monarchy and the culture of eSwatini but a disgrace to journalism".

The government demanded that the Zambian Observer retract its story.

By Wednesday, the article had been replaced on the Zambian Observer's website with a short piece reporting the government's denial.