Swaziland History - History

Swaziland History - History

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As was the case in many African countries, Swaziland's indigenous population came under the control of colonial powers -- in this case, British and Boer -- beginning in the 19th century. Independence from Britain was a long while coming: a constitutional monarchy was declared in 1968. Although the King, Sobhuza II, discarded the original constitution in 1973, a new legislature was formed in 1979. Sobhuza died in 1982 and was succeeded by his son.

Swaziland - History

According to tradition, the people of the present Swazi nation migrated south before the 16th century from what is now Mozambique. Following a series of conflicts with people living in the area of modern Maputo, the Swazis settled in northern Zululand in about 1750. Unable to match the growing Zulu strength, the Swazis moved gradually northward in the 1800s and established themselves in the area of modern or present Swaziland.

They consolidated their hold under several able leaders. The most important was Mswati II, from whom the Swazis derive their name. Under his leadership in the 1840s, the Swazis expanded their territory to the northwest and stabilized the southern frontier with the Zulus.

Contact with the British came early in Mswati's reign, when he asked British authorities in South Africa for assistance against Zulu raids into Swaziland. It also was during Mswati's reign that the first whites settled in the country. Following Mswati's death, the Swazis reached agreements with British and South African authorities over a range of issues, including independence, claims on resources by Europeans, administrative authority, and security.

Swaziland had long been known as a country rich In minerals, and particularly in gold, and the whole of it was in the hands of concessionaries for mining, farming, grazing, &c. Its mineral wealth and agricultural resources caused it to be eagerly coveted by the Boers, who desired to absorb it and the adjoining strip along the coast, so that the Republic might have free access to the sea.

In the conventions with the Transvaal of 1881 and 1884 the British Government expressly stipulated for the independence of the Swazis. But already in 1878 the influx of European concession hunters into the territory had begun, and by 1888 an attempt was made by these men to set up within the native government a separate government for Europeans, the paramount chief, Mbandini, giving them a concession for this purpose. This first attempt at self-government broke down at the end of the year, and in the following year, which saw the death of Mbandini, the Transvaal and British Governments sent a joint commission to report on affairs.

The British Government refused to recognise the Dutch claims, and, by the Convention of 1890, it was agreed to recognise the independence of the Swazi king and people, and to entrust the government of the country to a Government Committee of three members, representing the British, Dutch, and Swazi Governments respectively.

A convention of July 24, 1890, between the British Government and the Republican Government, recognized the Commission as the governing body in Swaziland, and approved the establishment of a Chief Court with the special purpose of dealing with the innumerable concessions of every kind M and sort which the paramount chief had granted. The court was formally recognized by organic proclamations of Swaziland of September 13 and November 29, 1890, and it acted up to 1893, disposing of many concessions. In that year a new convention authorized the Republican Government to obtain an organic proclamation from the Swazi people conferring on the Republic powers of protection, administration, legislation, and jurisdiction, but the Swazi chiefs would not The Con. sign the proclamation, and instead a new convention of December 10, 1894, allowed the Republic to assume the proposed powers over Swaziland without the approval of the chiefs, but subject to certain conditions intended to safeguard the rights of the natives.

By the Convention, the British Government recognised the concession, granted by the Swazi king to the South African Republic, to construct a railway through Swaziland to the sea, at or near Kosi Bay. The Boer Government, however, continued to press its claims, and in spite of the protests of the natives and British settlers, the British Government in 1895 consented to allow the country to pass under the exclusive control of the Republic. South Africans administered the Swazi interests from 1894 to 1902.

The outbreak of war in 1899 resulted in the abandonment of the country, and a period of comparative anarchy followed, marked by a recrudescence of killing of alleged practisers of witchcraft. In 1902 the British assumed control.

The constitution was contained in the Orders in Council of June 25, 1903 and of December 1, 1906, which confer on the High Commissioner for South Africa full executive and legislative authority subject to the Crown, which may disallow any legislative proclamation and which issues instructions as to the administrative action of the High Commissioner. The details of the administration were regulated by Proclamation No. 4 of 1907. The actual conduct of government was entrusted to a Resident Commissioner, as in the case of Basutoland and the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

In 1921, after more than 20 years of rule by Queen Regent Lobatsibeni, Sobhuza II became Ngwenyama (lion) or head of the Swazi nation. The same year, Swaziland established its first legislative body--an advisory council of elected European representatives mandated to advise the British high commissioner on non-Swazi affairs. In 1944, the high commissioner conceded that the council had no official status and recognized the paramount chief, or king, as the native authority for the territory to issue legally enforceable orders to the Swazis.

In the early years of colonial rule, the British had expected that Swaziland would eventually be incorporated into South Africa. After World War II, however, South Africa's intensification of racial discrimination induced the United Kingdom to prepare Swaziland for independence. Political activity intensified in the early 1960s. Several political parties were formed and jostled for independence and economic development. The largely urban parties had few ties to the rural areas, where the majority of Swazis lived.

The traditional Swazi leaders, including King Sobhuza II and his Inner Council, formed the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM), a political group that capitalized on its close identification with the Swazi way of life. Responding to pressure for political change, the colonial government scheduled an election in mid-1964 for the first legislative council in which the Swazis would participate. In the election, the INM and four other parties, most having more radical platforms, competed in the election. The INM won all 24 elective seats.

In the period leading to independence swaziland gradually developed a dual government structure. The first part was the formal western-style parliamentary democracy (ended by the king in 1973). The long extant second part was the Swazi national council, dominated by the king. In theory the council only dealt with tribal matters, but it has always had a strong voice in modern governmental affairs.

Having solidified its political base, INM incorporated many demands of the more radical parties, especially that of immediate independence. In 1966, the U.K. Government agreed to discuss a new constitution. A constitutional committee agreed on a constitutional monarchy for Swaziland, with self-government to follow parliamentary elections in 1967. Swaziland became independent on September 6, 1968. Swaziland's post-independence elections were held in May 1972. The INM received close to 75% of the vote. The Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) received slightly more than 20% of the vote, which gained the party three seats in parliament.

In response to the NNLC's showing, King Sobhuza repealed the 1968 constitution on April 12, 1973 and dissolved parliament. He assumed all powers of government and prohibited all political activities and trade unions from operating. He justified his actions as having removed alien and divisive political practices incompatible with the Swazi way of life.

Once Sobhuza swept away the western-style government structure, the national council became the de facto ruling body of Swaziland. While the fact of a dual government structure dominated by traditionalist forces had long been recognized, the methods by which the traditionalists maintained their power had been difficult for outsiders and even most swazis to define. The key had been King Sobhuza.

Using his assured power base as the absolute tribal monarch in a one-tribe country, Sobhuza suspended the constitution and parliament in 1973 after his party lost three of the 24 parliamentary seats. This was followed by a series of decrees giving the king-in-council virtual dictatorial powers. Trade unions and the national student organization were suppressed, a draconian detention law was enacted, and a new citizenship law, sufficiently vague to deprive virtually anyone of swazi citizenship, was put into force.

Other sections of the modern sector that had generally backed the opposition party, such as the police, bureaucracy, teachers, and blue-collar workers, were brought under informal but increasing traditionalist control. This situation led to serious, potentially revolutionary tensions just below the surface of Swaziland society.

In January 1979, a new parliament was convened, chosen partly through indirect elections and partly through direct appointment by the King.

King Sobhuza II died in August 1982, and Queen Regent Dzeliwe assumed the duties of the head of state. In 1984, an internal dispute led to the replacement of the Prime Minister and eventual replacement of Dzeliwe by a new Queen Regent Ntombi. Ntombi's only child, Prince Makhosetive, was named heir to the Swazi throne. Real power at this time was concentrated in the Liqoqo, a supreme traditional advisory body that claimed to give binding advice to the Queen Regent. In October 1985, Queen Regent Ntombi demonstrated her power by dismissing the leading figures of the Liqoqo. Prince Makhosetive returned from school in England to ascend to the throne and help end the continuing internal disputes. He was enthroned as Mswati III on April 25, 1986. Shortly afterwards he abolished the Liqoqo. In November 1987, a new parliament was elected and a new cabinet appointed.

In 1988 and 1989, an underground political party, the People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) criticized the King and his government, calling for democratic reforms. In response to this political threat and to growing popular calls for greater accountability within government, the King and the Prime Minister initiated an ongoing national debate on the constitutional and political future of Swaziland. This debate produced a handful of political reforms, approved by the King, including direct and indirect voting in the 1993 national elections.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The Nguni clans, which originated in East Africa in the fifteenth century, moved into southern Mozambique and then into present-day Swaziland the term abakwaNgwane ("Ngwane's people") is still used as an alternative to emaSwati . Sobhuza I ruled during a period of chaos, resulting from the expansion of the Zulu state under Shaka. Under Sobhuza's leadership, the Nguni and Sotho peoples as well as remnant San groups were integrated into the Swazi nation. "Swazi" eventually was applied to all the peoples who gave allegiance to the Ngwenyama.

National Identity. In the late 1830s, initial contact occurred among the Swazi, the Boers, and the British. A substantial portion of Swazi territory was ceded to the Transvaal Boers, the first of many concessions to European interests. The Pretoria Convention for the Settlement of the Transvaal in 1881 recognized the independence of Swaziland and defined its boundaries. The Ngwenyama was not a signatory, and the Swazi claim that their territory extends in all directions from the present state. More than a million ethnic Swazi reside in South Africa. Britain claimed authority over Swaziland in 1903, and independence was achieved in 1968.

Ethnic Relations. Relations among the Swazi peoples have generally been peaceful. Relations with Europeans historically were strained as a result of land concessions and tension caused by the administrative domination of Great Britain.

Swaziland — History and Culture

Swaziland may be one of Africa’s tiniest countries, but its culture is among the continent’s richest and best-preserved. The Swazis are always happy to welcome visitors into their homes and to join their traditional Incwala and Umhlanga ceremonies. There are traditional Swazi songs for seemingly all special occasions, while Swazi Sibhaca dance sessions can last up to three hours.


Swaziland’s history is surprisingly long and fascinating for such a small nation. Artifacts up to 200,000 years old and ancient rock paintings from approximately 25,000 BC have been found in the country. Swaziland’s first documented inhabitants, Khoisan hunter-gatherers, were eventually displaced by Bantu tribes who migrated from eastern Africa’s Great Lakes area during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Most modern-day Swazis descended from these Bantu tribes, who established farms and ironworks throughout the land. The Dlamini clan of the Ngwane Kingdom eventually conquered most of present-day Swaziland, which had previously been occupied by several smaller kingdoms. The most impressive collection of Swazi artifacts from various eras is exhibited at the Swazi National Museum (Lobamba, Swaziland).

Shortly after Swaziland’s namesake, King Mswati II, ascended the throne during the early 19th century, he asked the British to help him defend the country against repeated Zulu raids. King Mswati II was the first Swazi monarch to permit white settlement on the territory. Boers formed the majority of white 19th century Swaziland settlers. The Mantenga Nature Reserve’s Swazi Cultural Village (Mantenga, Swaziland) provides the most accurate description of Swazi life during this time.

The British granted Swaziland independence in 1881, but the much larger South African Republic soon swallowed up its tiny neighbor in 1890. Several Boers fled Swaziland between 1899 and 1902, the years of the Second Boer War. Although Swaziland remained neutral territory at the start of the war, it essentially became a British protectorate by the end of 1900. Swazi militia helped the British capture countless fleeing Boers during the war, while other Boers surrendered to the British after learning about the local militia’s harsh treatment of their captors.

After the end of the Second Boer War, Swaziland became a British colony from 1906 until 1968. During this time, Swaziland’s own monarch remained the territory’s head of state although a British resident commissioner made many of the local legislative decisions. In 1964, reigning Swazi monarch King Sobhuza II led the Imbokodvo National Movement to victory during the territory’s first election.

During Swaziland’s first post-independence election in 1972, King Sobhuza II ignored the election results which saw his party defeated by the Ngwane National Liberatory and restored the territory to an absolute monarchy, a status Swaziland maintains to this day. The people of Swaziland remain friendly and optimistic despite the country’s continuing poverty, high HIV/AIDS rate, and economic dependence on South Africa.


Despite being surrounded by much larger South Africa and a growing number of Western influences, Swaziland has its own distinct culture that remains very much intact. Many men still carry traditional battle axes, many women still sport traditional beehive hairstyles, and both sexes still wear the same colorful outfits they have sported for centuries.

Most Swazis can easily identify which tribe people belong to by the shape of their huts. Nguni beehive huts have rounded frames, while Sotho hut roofs are pointed and detachable. Women are still barred from entering the fenced cattle pens, sibaya, in the middle of Swazi homes. Each Swazi homestead also contains a family shrine called an indlunkulu and which is dedicated to their patrilineal ancestors.

Songs accompany all Swazi rituals, from weddings to coming-of-age ceremonies. The most popular Swazi dance, sibhaca, is performed barefoot in colorful tasseled costumes. Sibhaca performances typically last between two or three hours and include several different musical styles.

Postal History

A typical example of the "Seven wavy line machine cancellation used in Manzini and Mbabane.

In 2013 Peter van der Molen and his team published the book "Swaziland Philately to 1968". In this book one can find answers to most questions about the history of stamps and postal history of

Swaziland before Independence, and it is not necessary to repeat what is written there.

Machine cancellations have not been very popular among the stamp collectors, but among postal history collectors, the situation may be a little bit different. These cancellations should of cause be counted and collected just like all other postal cancellations and markings.

In the book "Swaziland Philately to 1968" Dr. Alex Visser has thoroughly gone through all machine cancels used before Independence. This article will focus on the use of machine cancels after Independence.

Machine cancellations

Before Independence, only Mbabane and Manzini (Bremersdorp) used machine cancellations. It all started in 1961, and continued for many years.

Even after Independence, some of the old machine cancellers with slogans like "WORLD UNITED AGAINST MALARIA" and "KEEP DEATH OF THE ROAD" were used for some time.

"KEEP DEATH OF THE ROAD" was only used at Manzini, and the last one reported in "Swaziland Philately to 1968" was cancelled 28.5.1972. This cover was used as late as 5.7.1972.

"GET HOME SAFELY" was only used in Mbabane, and latest reported used 28.11.1969. This cover was cancelled a few days earlier.

"WORLD UNITED AGAINST MALARIA" was used both in Manzini and Mbabane. The last reported use in Manzini is 23.11.1977, and the last reported use in Mbabane is 11.10.1974.

This cover has received an ordinary "WORLD UNITED AGAINST MALARIA" cancel and in addition, the "Postage Paid" version – in red – of the same cancel. This is the latest use of this "Postage Paid" cancel reported.


After Independence, only one new canceller with a slogan has been reported. "Visit Swaziland" seems to have been introduced in 1972, and was used in Manzini and Mbabane, and later on also in Nhlangano. The earliest (and latest) use of this cancel in my collection is as follows:

Even though this cancel have been used for some years, they have not been extensively used. I have only found one cover (aerogramme) from Manzini – with a very weak impression - and three covers from Mbabane. In Nhlangano it has been used for more than 30 years, so I believe there is a lot to be found.

My best impression of "VISIT SWAZILAN" from Mbabane.

Many of the impressions from Nhlangano are clear and complete.

"Seven lines waves"

A machine cancel used in Manzini with postmark and seven wavy lines.

Some years after the older machine cancellers had been taken out of use, a new canceller was introduced at Manzini and Mbabane post offices. The design is different from the earlier one, and consists of a circular postmark with a diameter of 21 mm and seven wavy lines. The postmark has the name of the office at the top and the country name at the bottom. In between there is three lines giving the time of day, date and month, and year.

The three elements of the postmark – time, day & month, year – can be combined in six different ways:

I do not have a lot of material to work with, but this is what I have found so fare about the time span where these cancellers have been used:

Manzini canceller

The most common type for the Manzini cancels seems to be Type 1, but in addition, Type 2, 5 and 6 are all found as can be seen in the following line-up:

A typical example of the “Seven wavy line machine cancellation used in Manzini and Mbabane.

In 2013 Peter van der Molen and his team published the book “Swaziland Philately to 1968”. In this book one can find answers to most questions about the history of stamps and postal history of

Swaziland before Independence, and it is not necessary to repeat what is written there.

The Swazi kinship.

The initial Swazi social unit is the homestead it is a traditional beehive hut that is thatched with dry grass. They usually run a polygamous home, so, in a polygamous house, each wife has her hut and yard surrounded by reed fences. This homestead comprises three structures: one for sleeping, one for cooking, and one for storage. In larger homes, there are also structures used as bachelors’ quarters and guest accommodation.

At the center of each traditional homestead is a circular area enclosed by large logs inter-spaced with branches. This is the cattle byre or kraal the cattle byre has a practical significance it stands as a store of wealth and a symbol of each homestead’s prestige. It contains sealed grain pits. Adjacent to the cattle byre stands the great hut occupied by the mother of the headman of the home.

The headman is central to all homestead affairs, and he is often polygamous. He leads through example. He is work to advise his wives on all social affairs of the home as well as seeing to the larger survival of the family. He also spends time socializing with the young boys, who are often his sons or close relatives, advising them on growing up and manhood expectations.

The diviners

A sangoma of Swaziland

A traditional diviner, known as the Sangoma, is chosen by the ancestors of a particular family. The Sangoma undergoes training that is called “kwetfwasa.” When the training ends, there’s a graduation ceremony that occurs during this ceremony, all the local Sangoma come together for feasting and dancing. The newly graduated diviner is consulted for various reasons: the cause of sickness, or even the cause of death. His diagnosis is based on what is called “kubhula,” its a process of communication, communication through trance, with the natural super-powers that he is supposed to possess as a sangoma. The Inyanga, a medical and pharmaceutical specialist in western terms, possesses the bone throwing skill called “kushaya ematsambo,” which is used to determine the cause of the sickness.

The incwala

The incwala dance of Swaziland

The Incwala ceremony is the most important cultural event in Eswatini. Incwala is often translated in English as the ‘first fruits ceremony,’ It takes place on the fourth day after the full moon nearest the longest day, 21 December. The King’s tasting of the new harvest is just one aspect among many in this long pageant. Incwala, therefore, is best translated as the Kingship Ceremony. Because when there is no king, there is no Incwala. In Eswatini, It is considered high treason for any other person to hold an Incwala, it’s an abomination.

Every Swazi person can take part in the public sections of the Incwala ceremony. But on the climax of the event, which is the fourth day of the Big Incwala. The key figures are the royalties, the King, Queen Mother, royal wives and children, the royal governors (indunas), the chiefs, the regiments, and the “bemanti” or “water people.”


The Umhlanga dance of Swaziland.

The Umhlanga reed dance is the Eswatini’s best-known cultural event. It is an eight-day ceremony, Swazi girls cut reeds and present them to the queen mother during this ceremony and then dance. It takes place in late August or sometimes early September. It’s only childless and unmarried girls that can take part. Preserving girls’ chastity, providing tribute labor for the Queen-mother, and encouraging solidarity by working together are the aims of this ceremony.

The royal family appoints an ordinary maiden to be “induna” (captain) of the girls the appointed maiden announces the dates of the ceremony over the radio. She has to be an expert dancer and also knowledgeable on royal protocol. One of the King’s daughters will be her counterpart for the ceremony.

The Reed Dance today is not an ancient ceremony but a development of the old “umchwasho” custom. The country was under the chastity rite of “umchwasho” until 19 August 2005. In “umchwasho” custom, all young girls are placed in a female age-regiment. If any girl becomes pregnant outside of marriage, her family will pay a fine of one cow to the local chief of that chiefdom. After several years, when the girls reached a marriageable age, they would perform labor service for the Queen Mother, ending it with dancing and feasting.

Museums & History

Eswatini’s (Swaziland’s) thriving culture dates back centuries, and there is plenty to learn from the country’s history across multiple museums and historic places of interest. Eswatini’s national museum, known in siSwati as Umsamo Wesive was built in 1972 and sits just behind parliament at Lobamba, the country’s traditional capital. It serves as the HQ of the Eswatini National Trust Commission (ENTC), custodians of the nation’s heritage and cultural archives, and contains exhibits on Eswatini’s culture, history and natural history.

The King Sobhuza II Memorial Park, a formal garden which stands immediately opposite the National Museum, was built in 1982 after the death of King Sobhuza II at the site where his body lay in state. Sobhuza – father of today’s King Mswati III – enjoys an almost defied status in contemporary Eswatini as the father of the modern-day Eswatini. His various celebrated utterances trotted out like the wisdom of Solomon. ‘Anginasitsa’ (‘I have no enemies’) is the motto emblazoned on the large brass statue of the monarch that stands at the centre. The hexagonal layout has various symbolic resonances, with Sobhuza’s statue facing east towards his father’s burial site in the Mdzimba mountains. A glass mausoleum that preserves the very spot where the body lay is guarded day and night, with photographs strictly forbidden a flame is lit for important occasions. The small museum display documents the King’s long life with archive photographs and some fascinating nuggets of information.

Various other historic sites include the Bulembu Mining Museum, the new Sugar Cane Museum and Execution Rock, to name but a few.

Swaziland History Facts and Timeline

Home to just over one million people, Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in Africa. However, the history of Swaziland is a long and proud one, with discovered artefacts dating back to the Stone Age.

Nowadays, the land is occupied by the Swazi people, whose southern Bantu ancestors first moved here from Central Africa during the 1400s and the 1500s. The country and its people are named after a former monarch, King Mswati II, and to this day the country remains one of the world's last absolute monarchies.

Early Tribes

The Bantu Migrations of the 1500s meant that the Khoisan tribes who had inhabited the lands for many centuries were eventually displaced. The Bantu brought superior technology with them, quickly establishing ironworks and farms to drive the local economy.

Although the current Swazi descend directly from the Bantu, it is difficult to say that there was much unity in these early days. Rival clans fought for control of the small kingdoms which once made up the current Swaziland, with the Dlamini clan and their Ngwane kingdom eventually taking control of many areas.

The Swazi National Museum in Lobamba is a good place to learn about the early culture and history of Swaziland, with its range of historical and archaeological artefacts. Alternatively, the Cultural Village located in the Mantenga Nature Reserve tells the Swazi story through traditional dance and offers a glimpse into the life of a typical Swazi homestead.

White Contact

The first British contact came shortly after King Mswati II came to the throne in the first quarter of the 19th century. Swaziland had come under repeated raids by the Zulus, and so Mswati II asked the British for assistance. It was around this time in Swaziland history that he also allowed the first whites to settle here, namely the Boers.

In 1881, the British signed over independence to the Swazi. However, this agreement didn't last long before Swaziland's rich land and minerals came to the attention of the increasingly influential South African Republic (Transvaal). By 1890, the country was completely under South African administration.

Anglo-Boer War

The Second Boer War (between 1899 and 1902) saw many white residents flee Swaziland for safer areas. Those who remained were drafted to fight against the British forces, while Swazi royalty tried to remain neutral early on in the conflict.

By the end of 1900, Swaziland was essentially operating as a British protectorate, although the British had vowed to keep their forces out, except in the case of an all-out invasion by the Boers. In early 1901, British forces were sent into Swaziland, as Boers attempted to flee through the country.

In conjunction with local Swazi militia, the British captured large numbers of fleeing Boers. The Swazi militia showed no mercy in their capture of Boer areas and as word spread of their atrocities, many other Boer groups were quick to surrender.

Post-Boer War and Independence

Despite the British and Swazi forces gaining control in early 1901, Boer forces were still active until February 1902, when their final regiment was defeated. The British colonial period then lasted from 1906 until as recently as 1968, with a resident commissioner making legislative decisions at a local level, alongside a Swazi monarch as the head of state.

Early on, the British expected Swaziland to be swallowed up by the new South Africa, although the rise of apartheid meant that they had to prepare for independence. In the latter years of British rule, King Sobhuza II was allowed to have increasing influence and his political party, the Imbokodvo National Movement, enjoyed a significant landslide victory in the 1964 elections.

Post Independence History

Swaziland gained independence in 1968 and the first election following independence (1972) saw the rival Ngwane National Liberatory Congress gain just one-fifth of the vote. This was quite unacceptable to Sobhuza, who chose to ignore the results and restore an absolute monarchy to Swaziland.

More recent times have seen an increasing number of political reforms, and despite the presence of elected parliamentary representatives, it is the monarch who retains most of the real power in governing the country. The wealthy king is noted for having multiple wives in a country with an extremely high HIV rate alongside high poverty. Although bordering Mozambique, this landlocked country remains thoroughly dependent on South Africa and operates a micro-economy.