Swaziland History, Language and Culture

History of Swaziland

Swaziland became a British Protectorate in 1907, following the Boer War of 1899-1902. The country became independent in September 1968. Repeated South African requests that the territory be handed over to them had been refused by the British, who administered Swaziland (like Botswana and Lesotho) as a 'High Commission Territory' – one of three established by a 1910 Act of Parliament. Since independence, the country's domestic politics have suffered constant turbulence. Between 1973 and 1978, the constitution was suspended and a state of emergency imposed at the instigation of the king. Political parties, public gatherings and freedom of speech were all outlawed.

In 1978, a new constitution concentrated political power in the hands of the monarch, who appointed a prime minister and cabinet; the state of emergency remained in force, however. An elected parliament, the Libandla, in which political parties remained illegal, was established, although its functions were restricted to conveying advice to the king and his principal advisory body, the Liqoqo (Supreme Council of State). The current monarch, King Mswati III, was crowned in April 1986. Political stability continued to prove elusive during the late-1980s – the Mswati monarchy was repeatedly threatened by plots organised by dissident members of the royal family and disaffected politicians but all were stifled with apparent ease.

The focus of opposition has been the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), which operated largely clandestinely until February 1992, when it declared itself a legal opposition party – in contravention of the government ban on political association – and demanded a constitutional referendum. Although steady pressure has been exerted against the king from both inside and outside the country, he remains impervious to any entreaties and continues to be one of the world's few absolute monarchs. Prime Ministers who challenge or disobey royal commands are summarily dismissed. The current premier, who took up the post in 2003, is Themba Dlamini.

Swaziland is desperately poor and has suffered several serious food shortages in the last three years: the present one, which dates from late 2003, has been exacerbated by serious drought. Moreover, according to a January 2003 World Health Organisation report, the country has the world's highest per capita incidence of HIV/AIDS, with an estimated 40 per cent of the adult population afflicted. Average life expectancy is 35 and falling. Yet Mswati pursues a profligate lifestyle while failing to take any significant action to ease his subjects' suffering.

Swaziland's foreign relations are dominated by South Africa. In general, these have undergone a steady improvement since 1994 and the advent of majority rule in South Africa. There are a number of territorial disputes in which Swaziland claims tracts of land in the KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces.

Swaziland Culture

Religion in Swaziland

70% Zionist (mix of Christianity and traditional beliefs).

Social Conventions in Swaziland

Traditional ways of life are still strong and Swazi culture in the form of music, dance, poetry and craftsmanship plays an important part in daily life. Casual wear is normal although more formal wear is customary at the casino and sophisticated hotels. Visitors wishing to camp near villages should first inform the headman.

Photography: Permission to photograph individuals should always be sought. In some cases, a gratuity may be asked for (especially if the subject has gone to some effort to make a show - for example, by wearing traditional regalia). It is prohibited to photograph the Royal Palace, the Royal Family, uniformed police, army personnel, army vehicles or aircraft and bank buildings.