A brief history
The Swazis were originally from east central Africa but in the late 15th century, they travelled south, crossed the Limpopo River and settled in southern Tongaland (today called Mozambique). Their leader was Dlamini and, after 200 years, the Swazi people, still under a series of chiefs of the Dlamini clan, moved into the region on the Pongola River where they lived in close proximity to the Ndwandwe people. Later on, economic pressures of land shortage finally brought these two groups to blows, after which battle the Swazis retreated to the central area of modern Swaziland. Here the Swazis continued the process of expansion by conquering numerous small Sotho and Nguni speaking tribes to build up a large composite state today called Swaziland.
Modern Swazi History (1900 To Present)
In 1902, the British declared Swaziland a “protectorate” (colony) under a Resident Commissioner, reporting to a High Commissioner in Pretoria and applying their usual policy of indirect rule, leaving the monarchy and chieftaincy basically intact.
In 1907, the British partitioned the land giving two thirds to white sellers and one third to the Swazis under their chiefs, which was vehemently opposed by the formidable Queen Regent, Labotsibetli (King Sobhuza’s grandmother).
When Sobhuza was installed in 1921, the British referred to him as “Paramount Chief” while to the Swazi people he was their king and although he went to England in 1923 to challenge the land partition, he lost the case. When the British requested help for the war effort in 1941, King Sobhuza approved the joining up of about 4,000 Swazi men who served in North Africa and Italy – which assistance was commemorated at Nhlangano (“The Meeting Place”) when King George and Queen Elizabeth thanked him personally. After World War II, the economy was boosted, mostly by the first pine and sugar plantations. Then in the early 1960s, as other African colonies regained their independence, Britain encouraged the formation of political parties. King Sobhuza formed the “imbokodvo” (“grindstone”) National Movement. The movement won all the seats in the first elections in 1967 and Swaziland regained its independence on 6 September 1968, being the only state in Africa ruled by the natural successors of the leadership of pre-colonial times.
In the second elections in 1973, the rival “Congress” party won three of the 18 seats. Sobhuza-in-Council then dissolved Parliament, repealed the Constitution and ruled by decree until 1978, when elections were held under the “Tinkhundla” (constituency) system.
King Sobhuza II ruled as executive monarch until his death in 1982.
A supreme council of state (“Liqoqo”) ruled the country for four years, while the Crown Prince, Makhosetive, finished high school in England (Sherborne School, Dorset) and he became King Mswati III in 1986.
In 1993, and 1998, secret ballot elections were held in a “no-party” state.
Serene and beautiful, Swaziland is renowned for its beauty and peaceful environment. Travellers are drawn to the land for many reasons: Its natural diversity, its breathtaking vistas, and its famously friendly locals. King Mswati III presides over the land, which is imbued with a strong African identity and informed by traditional values.
Exploring the country reveals a juxtaposition of game-rich expanses and bustling villages. There are excellent wildlife and photographic opportunities for visitors, while the villages have arts and crafts, fresh vegetable markets and traditional medicine as defining features. Natural attractions in Swaziland include its waterfalls and lush, forested ravines. The country is also well-known for its hand-crafted candles and Ngwenya glass sculptures.
Swaziland has a fascinating history and landscape. If you’re a visitor to the country, you may be keen to know more about the Kingdom:
- Read important travel information on Swaziland – including details about its major cities, languages, climate, culture, business hours and public holidays.
- Discover facts about Swaziland and its heritage.
Geography and climate
The Kingdom of Swaziland is a land-locked country, bordered by Mozambique in the east and South Africa on the other sides. It has a subtropical climate, with average summer temperatures of 15–25 degrees Celsius in the north, reaching 35 degrees Celsius in the South. Average winter temperatures range from 15-19 and up to 26 degrees Celsius in the south. Rainfall at higher altitudes varies from 1,000 to 1,600mm annually, while in the lower areas, it averages 500 to 600mm annually. The country’s highest point is Emlembe at 1,862m, and the lowest is the Great Usuthu River at 21m.
Swaziland currency and conversions
In Swaziland, the unit of currency is the Lilangeni (E1 – 100 cents), and its value is on a par with the South African Rand. The South African Rand can be used in the Kingdom of Swaziland (notes only). Local notes are issued in denominations of E200 (green), E100 (brown), E50 (orange), E20 (maroon) and E10 (blue). There are E5, E2, E1 in gold coins and 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c pieces in silver coins.
Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, covering an area of just 17,000 square kilometres. Explore a Swaziland map to find the best places of interest and orientate yourself in this small but diverse monarchy.
Swaziland’s famous Reed Dance
The Umhlanga (or Reed Dance) takes place in late August or early September each year. It is a dance which attracts young maidens from every area of the Kingdom and provides the occasion for them to honour and pay homage to the Queen Mother (iNdlovukazi). Most of the participants are teenagers, although some of the girls are younger. Over 20 000 maidens gather reeds from selected areas which they present to the King and the Queen Mother.
The girls wear short beaded skirts with anklets, bracelets and jewellery and colourful sashes. The royal princesses wear red feathers in their hair and lead the maidens to perform before their Majesties. This ceremony can be photographed, provided you have a permit.
Dress code; NO HATS FOR MAN, LADIES WEAR DRESS / SKIRT but NO slacks/ jeans allowed.
The Annual Incwala Ceremony
The Incwala, or first fruits ceremony, in which the King plays a dominant role, is the most sacred of all the Swazi rituals. It is held in December or January on a date chosen by astrologers in conjunction with the phases of the moon and sun. The ritual begins with a journey by the “Bemanti” (people of the water) to the Indian Ocean to collect water and on their return to the royal kraal, the little Incwala begins, on the new moon.
At the full moon, youths from all parts of the kingdom travel to collect the sacred branches of the “lusekwane” shrub, a species of acacia. On the third day a bull is ritually slaughtered by the youths, instilling solidarity among them and a spirit of valour. The fourth day is the culmination of the Incwala when the King, in full ceremonial dress, joins his warriors in the traditional dance. He then enters a special sanctuary and after further rituals, eats the first fruits of the season. On the appearance of the King to his people, they may also eat these fruits with the blessing of the ancestors. Certain parts of the Incwala may not be witnessed by outside people and it is vital to have a permit to take photographs within the proximity of the royal cattle byre.
Choosing a King
The successor to the throne is chosen in relation to the status of his mother. A Queen Mother is selected because of her high rank, however, the Queen Mother will be chosen by the Royal Council after the King’s death, she will be from an unrelated family.
The Royal family line, the Dlamini’s, never intermarry; the King is always a Dlamini, the Queen Mother is never a Dlamini. The Queen Mother may have only one son, as a king is not to be followed by blood brothers. He is “Nkosi Dlamini” and is expected to unify his position by choosing wives from all sectors of the community.
The balance of power lies between the King and the Queen Mother; the “Ngwenyama” represents the hardness as expressed in thunder, the Queen Mother or “Ndlovukazi” (The Elephant) the softness as in water. They assist and advise each other in many Activities, each complementing the other.
The Royal Council plays a key role in the selection of the successor to the throne. He must be single and if still a minor, the Queen Mother to the late king automatically assumes responsibility of Regent until the prince is crowned “Ngwenyama”. The present Queen Mother, Queen Ntombi ruled as Queen Regent until King Mswati lll was crowned in April 1986.