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Map of Africa locating Swaziland

The Swazi nation, as we know it today, originally came from Mozambique. Their Nguni ancestors probably moved there before the sixteenth century as part of the Bantu migration. Archaeologists have found human remains in eastern Swaziland that have been dated to be 110 000 years old, but these were not the ancestors of the Swazi.

The Swazi fled from their original home to the Pongola River valley in KwaZulu Natal in the nineteenth century as a result of internal pressure. Ndwandwe attacks later forced the Swazi, ruled by Sobhuza I of the Dlamini, to transfer to the Ezulwini Valley in the area we know as Swaziland today. Sobhuza was the son of Ngwane III, who the Swazi recognise as their first king.

The Swazi people drove away most of the Sotho groups in the area and Sobhuza became the most powerful ruler in the region. He also managed to avoid the worst of the mfecane and further Zulu attacks through diplomacy. This ensured that the Swazi nation grew while other surrounding groups disintegrated. The next Swazi king to take the throne was Mswati. He was a gifted diplomat and warrior and when his term ended in 1868, the Swazi nation was secure.

During the 1800s European settlers, traders, missionaries and hunters moved into the area with the intention of making it their home. In 1877 the British annexed the kingdom. Although the Swaziland Convention of 1881 ensured the areas independence it made the kingdom s great deal smaller. This independence was largely on paper and in 1894 Swaziland became a protectorate of the Transvaal Colony, which was under British control following the Second Anglo Boer War. This arrangement continued until 1906, when the kingdom became a High Commission Territory under the rulership of a British Commissioner.

For the next 66 years Swaziland remained under British control. Many Swazi men left their homes to raise money as mineworkers to buy parts of their land back. British rule in the kingdom was peaceful and by 1963 limited self-government was allowed. On 6 September 1968 Swaziland was granted complete independence. It was still a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the king, Sobhuza II who had come into power in 1921, became the Head of State. The country was administered by a Cabinet and Prime Minister selected by Parliament.

The Swaziland constitution was a product of its previous British rulers and in 1973 King Sobhuza II suspended it. He felt that it did not reflect the culture of the Swazi people. A new constitution was drawn up and presented in 1977. This new constitution made the king the absolute ruler of the kingdom.

Sobhuza stayed in power until 1982 when Prince Makhosetive Dlamini was selected as his successor. He was crowned as King Mswati III in 1986 and rules the kingdom with a small group of advisors called the Council of Ministers.

In 1982 South Africa and Swaziland came to a formal agreement regarding each other's security interests. Swaziland would deport all African National Congress (ANC) members to South Africa. This did not prevent raids by the South African police in search of ANC operatives.

Sever drought in 1992 pushed Swaziland to the verge of famine. The 1990s also saw a great deal of civil action in favour of democracy put pressure on the king to change his state structure. The first Parliamentary elections in the kingdom were held in 1993. Opposition parties were, however, illegal and in 1995 the National Assembly, homes of the Prime Minister and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Swaziland were burned down during riots.

Towards the end of 1997 the king's powers were slightly reduced and talks were held with the Heads of State of Mozambique and South Africa to formulate a plan to move the kingdom towards democracy. Elections were held in 1998, but the king still held most of the power. Opposition parties were still banned and unions began organising strikes and bans on imported goods. IN answer the government restricted trade union activities. The Public Order Act was also passed and forbids party politics in the kingdom and stipulates police permission to hold a meeting.

Pressure from opposition groups for the limitation of the king's powers and a democratic government have increased in the 21 st century. The king has been refusing to change the system of rule.

In 2001 the king prohibited men from having sex with teenage girls for 5 years in an attempt to stem the spread of AIDS. Another drought struck in 2002 and the United Nations (UN) distributed food assistance. The drought continued unabated and in 2004 the Prime Minister declared a humanitarian crisis.

Last updated : 08-Jun-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 21-Mar-2011

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