It is one of seven landlocked Commonwealth countries, all of which are
in Africa. Mountains in the western highlands rise to 1,862m, and the
lowlands to the east fall to around 150m.
As a neighbour of South Africa – Africa’s economic powerhouse –
Swaziland receives more than most other African countries in remittances
Joined Commonwealth: 1968
Population: 1,250,000 (2013)
GDP: p.c. growth: 0.8% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: World ranking 148
Official language: siSwati, English
Timezone: GMT plus 2hr
Currency: lilangeni, plural emalangeni (E)
Area: 17,364 sq km
Capital city: Mbabane
Population density (per sq. km): 72
The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small landlocked country in the east of
Southern Africa, bounded to the east by Mozambique and elsewhere by
The country comprises four regions: Hhohho (in the north), Manzini
(west-central), Lubombo (east) and Shiselweni (south).
Mbabane (capital, pop. 61,800 in 2010), Manzini (94,900), Malkerns
(8,000), Nhlangano (7,000), Mhlume (6,800), Big Bend (6,700), Siteki
(6,100), Simunye (5,500), Hluti (5,400), Pigg’s Peak (4,600) and Lobamba
(legislative capital, 3,800).
There are 3,590 km of roads, at least 30 per cent paved, linking with
South Africa and Mozambique.
The 300 km railway is used mainly for freight and continues in a
north-easterly direction to Maputo in Mozambique, providing Swaziland
with access to shipping. Since 1986, there has been a direct connection
between Mpaka (35 km east of Manzini) and the South African railway
network. The passenger service from Durban to Maputo, Mozambique, passes
through Swaziland, stopping at Mpaka.
A new international airport, King Mswati III International Airport,
located to the east of Manzini, replaced Matsapha as the principal
international airport in 2014.
Swaziland is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of
States, African Union, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa,
Non-Aligned Movement, Southern African Customs Union, Southern African
Development Community, United Nations and World Trade Organization.
There are four regions, all running from north to south. The western
Highveld, a continuation of the Drakensberg Mountains, rises to 1,862m.
East of the Highveld is the grassy Middleveld, beside the Lowveld (also
called the Bushveld) at around 150–300m with some higher ridges and
knolls. The eastern region, the Lubombo, is a narrow escarpment. The
four most important rivers, all flowing from the Highveld east towards
the Indian Ocean, are the Komati, the Usutu, the Mbuluzi and the
Ngwavuma. None is easily navigable. The Lowveld watercourses are wadis,
except after heavy rain.
The Highveld is near-temperate and humid, the Middleveld and Lubombo
subtropical, the Lowveld near-tropical. Swaziland is one of the
best-watered countries in southern Africa although, in common with the
region, rainfall may be unreliable and periods of drought occur in the
Lowveld, for example in 2004–05. Summer (October–March) is the rainy
season. There is occasional, short-lived frost in the Highveld and the
The most significant environmental issues are overgrazing, soil
degradation, soil erosion, limited supplies of drinking water, and
depletion of wildlife populations by excessive hunting.
Varies from the forested Highveld with its Usutu pines to the grassland
and bush vegetation of the Lowveld. Forest covers 33 per cent of the
land area, having increased at 0.9 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land
comprises ten per cent and permanent cropland less than one per cent of
the total land area.
There are eight nature reserves inhabited by indigenous species, several
of them under threat elsewhere, such as black and white rhinoceroses,
elephants, buffaloes, hippopotami, and a vast variety of bird species –
including storks and vultures. Six mammal species and 11 bird species
are thought to be endangered (2014).
The Nguni Swazi Kingdom rose to prominence early in the 19th century,
under the leadership of King Sobhuza I, who enlarged the territory by
conquering and absorbing numbers of non-Nguni people.
King Mswati II then moulded the young kingdom into a powerful military
force. Through internal stability, military might and diplomacy,
Swaziland remained an independent country until the 1890s, the King
taking advantage of the rivalry between the British administration in
Natal and the Boer republic of the Transvaal to avoid takeover by
either. From 1894 until 1902 the country was administered by the Boer
republic, but not annexed. After the defeat of the Boers by Britain in
1902, Swaziland came under British control until independence.
King Sobhuza II reigned from 1921 to 1982 and is thought to have been
the second-longest reigning monarch in world history – although he was
only officially recognised as king in 1967 under the Swaziland
Constitution Order of the British Government. Sobhuza II was a staunch
conservative, determined to restore traditional customs and land rights,
much of the land having been sold by the colonial authorities to
individual European or African farmers. By the time of his death in
1982, almost 40% of the land of the Kingdom was back in the traditional
communal system of land tenure.
Swaziland became independent on 6 September 1968 and joined the
Commonwealth. In 1973, the King repealed the independence constitution,
abolishing parliament and all political parties. The tinkhundla system
of government was introduced in 1978 and overhauled in 1993 (see
Constitution). When the King died in 1982, there was a four-year delay
before Prince Makhosetive acceded to the throne as King Mswati III in
1986. From the mid-1980s there was building pressure for a return to
multiparty democracy. The reintroduction of universal adult suffrage in
1993 only served to increase this pressure. There was from the mid-1990s
a succession of strikes organised by the Swaziland Federation of Trade
Unions and increasingly public activity by opposition movements. A
Constitutional Review Commission was set up in July 1996 to solicit the
views of the Swazi nation on the type of constitution the people wanted,
by visiting all the constituencies in the country and then submitting a
report, including a draft new constitution by 1998.
Elections for pre-selected candidates were held in October 1998. About
60% of the registered voters cast their vote. The King confirmed Dr
Sibusiso Barnabas Dlamini as prime minister. Most of the 16 ministers
were royal appointees rather than elected members of parliament.
The Constitutional Review Commission finally presented its report to the
King in November 2000, but it was not published. In 2001 the King
attempted to give himself additional powers to contain the pressure for
constitutional reform but climbed down in the face of national and
international protests. In August 2001 he called a national gathering
and the Commission’s chairperson announced – to an audience of only
about 10,000 people (the last national gathering was attended by
250,000) – that the King’s powers were to be enlarged but gave no
details of the fruits of the five-year review.
Subsequently the King set up a new commission to draft a new
constitution and the draft was released in May 2003. However, under this
constitution the country was to remain an absolute monarchy and, though
freedom of assembly was to be allowed and the ban on political parties
therefore technically lifted, under the continuing tinkhundla election
system there is no role for parties.
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