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#AfricanHistory: Swaziland

The Kingdom of Swaziland, a landlocked country between South Africa and Mozambique, is the last absolute  monarchy in sub-Saharan Africa.[1]

Swaziland can be considered a fairly young country since the first important clan settlement in the region was recorded in 1820. At the time, the adversity between the Dlamini, the Zulus and the Ndwandwe over the control of smaller clans forced the Dlamini to seek land northward.[2] They were considerably successful in assimilating into smaller clans and forging political alliances before having to move; this amalgamation of clans is considered to be the birth of the Swazi nation. Later on, the grouping of clans became a militarily and politically organised tribe.

The country’s name was chosen in reference to King Mswati II, whose anglicised name was  “Swazi’’  . To this day he is considered to be the « greatest fighting king ». Indeed, under his rule – from 1840 to 1868 – Swaziland’s territory extended farther than it does today.[3] However, the growing power of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal and the British Empire led to the decline of the Kingdom of Swaziland; who in turn signed a great number of concessions in an attempt to regulate these new influences.[4] In 1884, South Africa established a protectorate over Swaziland.[5]

The Second Boer War broke out in 1899, opposing the Boers and British control over  South African territories – namely the Transvaal and the Orange Free State – including their gold and diamond resources. [6] In 1902, the warring parties signed the Peace of Vereeniging [7] and the region – including Swaziland – was transferred to the British administration. [8]

Despite British domination, the traditional institutions attached to the King and chiefdoms remained. In 1921, King Sobhuza II was throned King. His attachment to traditional values and institutions as well as the drafting, of a constitution, in 1963, providing for limited self-government enabled him to maintain Swazi traditions. He managed to avoid Swaziland’s incorporation into South Africa and obtained independence on 6 September 1968. [9]

In 1973, Sobhuza II repealed the British Constitution to restore a more traditional system of government; the cabinet, prime minister and other ministers were maintained, but were constituted of members chosen by the King. [10] Under his rule, Swaziland prospered both economically and socially.[11]

Sadly the death of Sobhuza II in 1982 led to a family squabble that was only resolved four years later when Prince Makhosetive – the teenage heir – was crowned King Mswati III.[12]

Described as an authoritarian ruler, Mswati III was pressured to implement democratic reforms. The government, rife with corruption and excess was met with mounting demonstrations and strikes in the 1990’s and the 2000’s, which forced the King to hold ‘‘free’’ elections in 1993. Since political parties were still illegal, the election acted only to reinforce King Mswati III’s power.[13] Despite criticisms over the banishment of political parties and the King’s absolute power, a Constitution – drafted in 2001 – came into effect in 2006.[14]

From 2002 to 2004 Swaziland faced an unprecedented drought; furthermore poor agricultural practices and bad planning caused hundreds and thousands of Swazis to starve. [15] Meanwhile, Mswati III bought a new jet and started the construction of a luxury palace for his 12 wives. In response to criticisms, the media was forbidden to mention any negative remarks regarding government spending. [16]

To date, it seems that Swaziland has reached a worrying situation. It is currently the country which boasts the highest number of people with HIV/AIDS.[17] Moreover, poverty is increasing [18]  and political freedoms are more and more restricted.[19] According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Swaziland has violated international law by banning political activism and trade unions, such as the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) and the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA). [20]


Independence Day 6 September 1968
Government Monarchy
Head of State King Mswati III
Capital City Mbabane
GDP (2015) 4,060 billion [21]
Population (2015) 1, 287 million [22]
Religions Christianity, Indigenous beliefs [23]
Major languages Swazi, English
Currency Lilangeni [24]
Life expectancy [25] 50 years (men)

49 years (women)







[1] Infoplease. 2006. Swaziland – History. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016].

[2] Encyclopædia Britannica.  2010. Swaziland. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016].

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] n.1

[6] BBC. 2011. The Boer Wars. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016].

[7] n.2

[8] n.1

[9] Darbon, D. 2010. ‘‘Swaziland’’ . Encyclopaedia Universalis (online). Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016].

[10] n.2

[11] World Bank. 2015. Swaziland – Data. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016]

[12] n.9

[13] n.2

[14] n.9

[15] n.1

[16] Freedom House. 2003. Freedom in the World, Country Report: Swaziland. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016].

[17] BBC. 2016. Swaziland Country Profile. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016].

[18] n.11

[19] Freedom House. 2016. Freedom in the World, Country Report: Swaziland. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016].

[20] Human Rights Watch. 2016. SADC: Reverse Downward Slide on Rights. Available at: [Accessed: 5 September 2016]

[21] n.11

[22] Ibid

[23] n.16

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid