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The Commonwealth



Did you know:

Swaziland is a monarchy.

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 per capita.

Key facts

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
Coastline: none
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 South Africa.

The country comprises four regions: Hhohho (in the north), Manzini (west-central), Lubombo (east) and Shiselweni (south).

Main towns:

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.

International relations:

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 Middleveld.


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.

History Of Swaziland

Swaziland – Africa’s last monarchy

Learn more about Swaziland on The Commonwealth site
Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Dawn in Swaziland
By C. C Watts, M.A. (1922) (pdf)

Adventures in Swaziland
The story of a South African Boer by Owen Rowe O'Neil (1921) (pdf)

Without The King Swaziland

Swaziland Safari

The Kingdom of Swaziland: A Royal Experience

Kingdom of Swaziland Africa

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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