Background Notes: Swaziland

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: May 15, 19905/15/90 Category: Country Data Region: Subsaharan Africa Country: Swaziland Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] May 1990 Official Name: Kingdom of Swaziland


Nationality: Noun and Adjective-Swazi(s). Population (1988 Est.): 750,000 (47% under age 16). Annual Growth Rate: (1986) 3.3%. Ethnic Groups: The great majority is Swazi, with some Zulu and non-African inhabitants. Religions: Christian and indigenous beliefs. Languages: English, SiSwati (both official). Education: Years compulsory-none. Attendance-82% in primary school. Some secondary schooling-48%. Literacy-64%. Health: Infant mortality rate-+0.115/1,000. Life expectancy-56 years. Work force-(12% of population): Agriculture and forestry-30%; Financial and social services-26%; Mining and manufacturing-18%; Transportation and communications-7.8%; Construction-6.8%.
Area: 17,363 sq. km. (6,704 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than New Jersey. Cities: Capital-Mbabane (pop. 44,000, est.). Other city- Manzini, with industrial area (53,00 est.). Terrain: Mountainous and plateau. Climate: Varies from near-temperate to subtropical and semi-arid.
Type: Monarchy. Independence: September 6, 1968. Constitution: No written constitution in effect. Branches: Executive-monarch (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative-parliament consisting of house of assembly (50 members) and senate (20 members). Judicial-court of appeals, high court, subordinate and traditional courts. Administrative subdivisions: Four regions, two municipal governments, and 40 Tinkhundla (traditional subregions). Political Parties: None; not permitted by law. Suffrage: Universal. Central Government Budget (1989-90): Revenue-$201 million (E527 million), Expenditure-$181 million (E475 million). Defense (1988): 1.4% of GDP. Flag: Five horizontal stripes-blue, yellow, crimson, yellow, blue, with shield, two spears, and staff centered on wide crimson band.
GDP (1988 est.): $583 million. Real Annual Growth Rate (1982-88): 3.4%. Per Capita Income (1986): $804. Avg. Inflation Rate (1989): 13.3%. Natural Resources: Asbestos, coal, clay, gold, diamonds, timber, hydroelectric power. Agriculture (24% of GDP): Products- sugar cane, corn, citrus fruit, livestock, wood, pineapple, cotton, tobacco. Cultivated land-16% (crops plus commercial forests). Manufacturing (26% of GNP): Types- sugar refining, light manufactured goods, wood pulp, textiles, ginned cotton, processed foods, beverages, consumer goods. Trade (1988, est.): Exports-$436 million: sugar, wood products, manufactures, canned fruit, asbestos, citrus, meat and meat products. Major markets-South Africa, other African countries, European Community, United States. Imports (1988) -$424 million: motor vehicles, heavy machinery, fuel and lubricants, foodstuffs, clothing. Major suppliers-South Africa, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia. Official Exchange Rate: 1 lilangeni (pl. emalangeni) = 1 South African rand; 2.65 emalangeni = $1. Fiscal Year: April 1-March 31.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and most of its specialized agencies, Organization of African Unity (OAU), Commonwealth of Nations, International Sugar Association, South African Customs Union, Common Monetary Area, Preferential Trade Area, Southern African Development Coordination Conference, Nonaligned Movement.


Swaziland is bordered on three sides by the Republic of South Africa (the provinces of the Transvaal and Natal). It also shares a 112-kilometer (70-mile) border with Mozambique. Swaziland is divided geographically into four well-defined regions running from north to south. The mountainous highveld in the west has a humid, near- temperate climate with 100-230 centimeters (40-90 in.) mean annual rainfall. The middleveld and the Lubombo plateau (the central and extreme eastern sections, respectively) are subtropical and somewhat drier with 65-120 centimeters (25-47 in.) mean annual rainfall. The lowveld, a broad area running north to south, is subtropical and drier still with 50-90 centimeters (20-35 in.) mean annual rainfall concentrated mainly in a few heavy storms. Mean annual temperatures vary between 10.8oC (51oF) in the highveld and 29.7C (85F) in the lowveld.


Most Swazis are subsistence farmers. About 17,000 are employed outside the country in South African gold and platinum mines. The whites consist of English, Afrikaans, and Portuguese groups and are engaged mainly in agriculture, commerce, construction and mining. Most white Swazis are managers or skilled laborers. Christianity in Swaziland is sometimes mixed with traditional beliefs and practices. Most Swazis ascribe a special spiritual role to the monarch. The country's official languages are SiSwati (a Nguni language related to Zulu) and English. Government and commercial business is conducted mainly in English. According to tradition, the people of the present Swazi nation migrated south before the 16th century to what is now Mozambique. After 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 there, the Swazis moved gradually northward in the early 1800s and established themselves in the area of modern Swaziland. They consolidated their hold in this area under several able leaders. The most important of these was Mswati, 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. The first Swazi contact with the British came early in Mswati's reign when he asked the British agent general in South Africa for assistance against Zulu raids into Swaziland. During Mswati's reign, the first whites settled in the country. In the years following Mswati's death, the Swazis struggled to guarantee their independence. Agreements between the British and the Transvaal (South Africa) governments in 1881 and 1884 provided that Swaziland should be independent. During this period, however, many concessions for farming, mining, and commerce were granted to whites by the Swazi ruler, Mbandzeni. A number of confusing claims stemming from these concessions were pressed on the Swazi government. To bring order to the chaotic situation, a provisional administration for the territory was established in 1890 representing Swazi, British, and South African (Transvaal) government interests. In 1894, under a convention between the British and the South African governments, the latter assumed the powers of protection and administration. Swaziland continued under this form of government until the conquest of the Transvaal during the Boer War, when the rights and powers assumed by the South African Republic in the country passed to the British. In 1903, Britain formally took over the administration of Swaziland. In 1907, the British made an effort to settle the land concession question by defining farm concession boundaries and returning about one-third of all contested land to the Swazis in return for freehold titles granted to the concessionaires. The boundaries of mineral concessions were also defined, and all monopoly concessions were canceled. In 1921, Swaziland's first legislative body, an advisory council of elected white representatives, was established. Its purpose was to advise the high commissioner on purely non-Swazi affairs. In 1944, the high commissioner recognized the council as having official status. At the same time, the high commissioner recognized the paramount chief as the native authority for the territory, empowering him to issue legally enforceable orders to the Swazis. After 20 years of rule by a regent, the Queen Mother Labotsibeni, Sobhuza II became Ngwenyama (the lion) or head of the Swazi Nation in 1921. Before coming to the throne, the king studied for several years at Lovedale in South Africa and received special education by royal tutors. Shortly after becoming Ngwenyama, he traveled to London with his advisors to argue unsuccessfully the Swazi side of the land concession question before the privy council. In the early years of colonial rule, the British expected that Swaziland would eventually be incorporated into South Africa. After World War II, however, South Africa's intensification of apartheid prompted the United Kingdom to prepare Swaziland for independence. Educational and medical development and investment in agricultural projects were increased markedly. Political activity intensified in the early 1960s. Partly in response to events elsewhere in Africa, several political parties were formed that agitated for independence and economic development. These parties were largely urban-based, however, and had few ties to the rural areas where 80% of the Swazis live. The traditional Swazi leaders, including King Sobhuza and his council, formed the Imbokodvo National Movement, a political group that capitalized on its identification with the traditional Swazi way of life. Responding to pressures for political reform, the colonial government scheduled an election in mid-1964 for the first legislative council in which the Swazis would participate. In the election, the Imbokodvo won all 24 elective seats. Four other parties, most of them having more radical platforms, also competed in the election. The largest of these, the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC), received 9% of the vote but won no seats. Having solidified its political base, the Imbokodvo incorporated many demands of the more radical parties, especially that of immediate independence. In 1966, the British agreed to hold talks on a new constitution. Some conservative whites living in the territory made an unsuccessful attempt to establish the principle of separate elections for white-reserved seats in the new national assembly. The constitutional committee, consisting of representatives of the king and of the Swazi National Council, other political parties, and the British Government, rejected this suggestion. The committee agreed on a constitutional monarchy for Swaziland, with self-government to follow parliamentary elections in 1967. Although the NNLC received 20% of the vote in the April elections, the party was weakened before then by extensive defections of its younger and more dynamic leaders to the Imbokodvo movement. Swaziland became independent on September 6, 1968. Swaziland's first post-independence elections were held in May 1972. The Imbokodvo gained about 75% of the vote. The NNLC received slightly more than 20% of the vote, winning three seats in Parliament. On April 12, 1973, King Sobhuza repealed the 1968 constitution, suspended meetings of parliament, and assumed all governmental powers. He dissolved and prohibited all political parties. These steps were justified as removing alien and divisive political practices incompatible with the Swazi way of life. 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 head of state. In 1983, an internal dispute resulted in the replacement of the prime minister and the eventual replacement of Queen Regent Dzeliwe by Queen Regent Ntombi. During the same period, Ntombi's son, Prince Makhosetive, was named heir to the Swazi throne. Parliamentary elections under the indirect system were held again in October 1983, but real power was concentrated in the Liqoqo, a traditional advisory body that claimed to give binding advice to the queen regent. In October 1985, the queen regent reasserted her power by dismissing the chief of police and the leading figures of the Liqoqo. Prince Makhosetive returned early from school in England to ascend the throne and put an end to the continuing internal disputes. The crown prince was enthroned as Mswati III in April 1986. Shortly afterward, he abolished the Liqoqo. In November 1987, a new parliament was elected and a new cabinet appointed. The current prime minister, who replaced the prime minister selected at the time of the king's coronation, was appointed in July 1989. In 1988, the king pardoned 12 senior figures convicted in 1987 of treason stemming from the overthrow of Queen Regent Dzeliwe. Only one, a senior prince, remains in prison, having been convicted on an additional charge of framing political opponents.


Under Swazi law and custom, the king holds supreme executive, legislative, and judicial power. In general practice, the monarch's power is delegated through a statutory and traditional governmental structure. The parliament consists of a 50-member house of assembly (40 chosen through indirect election and 10 appointed by the king) and a 20-member senate (10 elected by the house of assembly and 10 appointed by the king). Legislation passed by the parliament must receive royal assent. A prime minister (head of government) and a cabinet exercise executive authority. The king appoints these from among the members of parliament. The judiciary consists of a court of appeals, a high court, and various subordinate and traditional courts. For local administration, Swaziland is divided into four regions, the administrators of which are appointed by the central government. Manzini and Mbabane have municipal governments. Parallel to this statutory government structure is a traditional system consisting of the king and his traditional advisors, traditional courts, and 40 Tinkhundla (subregional districts in which the traditional chiefs are grouped).
Principal Government Officials
Head of State-King Mswati III Prime Minister- Obed M. Dlamini Ministers Agriculture and Cooperative-H. Sipho Mamba Commerce, Industry, and Tourism-Douglas Nkomeni Ntiwane Education-Chief Sipho Shongwe Finance- Barnabas Dlamini Foreign Affairs-George Mamba Health-Fannie Friedman Interior and Immigration-Senzenjani Tshabalala Justice-Reginald Dhladhla Labor and Public Service- Benjamin Nsibandze Natural Resources, Land Utilization and Energy-Prince Nqaba Dlamini Works and Communications-Wilson Mkhonta Swaziland maintains an embassy in the United States at 3400 International Drive, NW, Suite 3M, Washington, DC, 20008 (202- 362-6683). Swaziland's Mission to the United Nations is at 866 UN Plaza, New York, NY, 10017 (212-371-8910).


Swaziland ranks among the more prosperous countries in Africa. Most of the high-level economic activity is in the hands of non-Africans, but ethnic Swazis are becoming more active small entrepreneurs and are moving into mid-management positions. Although 80% of Swazis live in rural areas or on farms, almost every homestead has someone employed for wage income who provides financial support. In recent years, new entrants into the labor pool have exceeded the number of new jobs created. About 56% of the land is held by the crown trust for the Swazi nation. The remaining 44% is privately owned, much of it by non- residents. Questions of land use and ownership remain sensitive. Cattle are the main evidence of Swazi wealth. Although always valued for their own sake, cattle are being used increasingly for milk, meat, and profit. Beef, hides, and skin are important export items. Dairy farming is increasingly important. In connection with the development of an iron ore mine at Ngwenya, which has since ceased operation, the Swaziland railway was constructed from east to west across the country. The railway made it possible to export bulk goods from Swaziland through the port of Maputo, Mozambique. Until recently, most of Swaziland's exports were shipped through this port. Conflict in Mozambique over the last few years has diverted many Swazi exports to ports in South Africa. A northern rail link was completed in 1986, providing a connection between the eastern Transvaal rail network and the South African ports of Richard's Bay and Durban. The sugar industry, based solely on irrigated cane, is centered on three mills and is Swaziland's leading export earner. Soft-drink concentrate (a US investment) is the kingdom's second largest export earner, followed by wood pulp and lumber from cultivated pine forests. Pineapple, citrus fruit, and cotton are other important agricultural exports. Coal deposits in the east have been developed and are increasingly exploited. Diamonds, industrial and gem, are growing in importance. Asbestos, formerly a leading mineral export, now constitutes less than 5% of total exports. In recent years, many small industries have been established, some of them in the two new industrial estates at Matsapha, near Manzini and at Nhlangano, in the south. In addition to processed agricultural and forestry products, the fast growing industrial sector also manufactures machinery and transport equipment, iron- pipe fittings, structural-steel parts, plastic containers, cardboard packaging, furniture, beer, liquor, soft drinks and soft-drink concentrates, candles, paint, resins, fertilizers, insecticides and other chemicals, and knitted and woven clothing. The Swaziland Industrial Development Corporation (SIDC) has assisted in bringing many of these industries to the country. The government also encourages industries and businesses. The Small Enterprises Development Company and SIDC aid in the creation of small Swazi firms. Tourism also is important. The country's beautiful scenery and well-developed tourist facilities attract more than 250,000 visitors annually. During the early and mid-1970s, Swaziland consistently experienced trade balance surpluses. In the early 1980s, dramatic declines in market prices for sugar and wood pulp led to increasingly large deficits. Recovery in those sectors as well as rapidly growing foreign investment in the manufacturing center have boosted growth rates dramatically in the last two years. Since mid-1985, the depressed value of the lilangeni has increased the competitiveness of Swazi exports and moderated the growth of imports, generating trade surpluses. The United States is not a major market for Swazi exports, lagging far behind the European Community and South Africa, the kingdom's most important customers. The United States is a significant market for Swazi sugar, however, and purchased 30,000 metric tons in 1989. Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, and South Africa form a custom union in which import duties apply uniformly to the member countries. Swaziland, Lesotho, and South Africa are joined in a common monetary area (CMA). A formal agreement governing currency controls and monetary affairs among the three countries was signed by member countries in December 1974 and renegotiated and extended in 1986. The CMA allows free transfer and unrestricted use of money with the CMA and provides for uniform foreign exchange controls in connection with non-members. Swaziland issued its own currency, the lilangeni (emalan-geni in the plural), in September 1974. Although not tied to the Rand, the lilangeni at present trades at par with it. Monetary transfers within the common monetary area do not require government approval. Transfers outside the CMA do require central bank approval, which is generally granted.


Swaziland is a member of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity. More than 40 countries have accredited ambassadors to the kingdom, although only a few have resident representatives. Swaziland maintains diplomatic missions in Brussels (European Community), London, Maputo, Nairobi, New York (UN), and Washington, D.C. Because of its location, Swaziland has close economic ties with South Africa. Abouty 15% of the Swazis with paid employment work in South African mines, industries, and farms, and roughly 90% of Swaziland's imports either originate in or transit through South Africa. The governments cooperate as appropriate. Although diplomatic representatives have not been exchanged, a South African trade commissioner lives in Mbabane.


National defense is the responsibility of the Umbutfo Swaziland Defense Force, consisting of about 3,000 troops and commanded by Brig. Gen. Fonono Dube. A small British military team assists the defense force in military training. Several officers each year are also trained in the United States under the International Military Education Training Program.


The United States seeks to maintain and strengthen the good bilateral relations that have existed since Swaziland became independent in 1968. The United States respects Swaziland's non- racial policy and encourages its continued economic and political development. The United States has assisted in developing Swazi agriculture, in expanding the rural health and rural water systems, in developing a more job-relevant primary school curriculum, and in developing the private sector. Swaziland sends about 20 students to the United States each year, primarily for master's and doctorate degrees. Some 80 Peace Corps volunteers work in Swaziland in a wide range of activities.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador-Vacant Charge d' Affaires, a.i.- Arma Jane Karaer Director, AID Mission-Roger Carlson Public Affairs Officer (USIS)-Helen Picard Director, Peace Corps-John Stabler The US Embassy in Swaziland is in the Central Bank Building, Warner Street, P.O. Box 199, Mbabane.


Customs: American citizens do not need visas to enter Swaziland. Climate: Swaziland's climate is moderate, similar to that of the middle Atlantic states but with the seasons reversed. Health: Adequate medical care is available in Swaziland for routine illnesses. Serious illnesses and accidents must be treated in South Africa or elsewhere. Tap water should be boiled or filtered. The climate is basically healthful. Telecommunications: International and local telephone and telegraph services are available. Mbabane is seven time zones ahead of eastern standard time. Transportation: Regular air service to and from Matsapa airport, near Mbabane and Manzini, links Swaziland with major international routes. Taxis and rental cars are available at the airport and in Mbabane. National Holidays: Businesses and the US Embassy may be closed on the following Swazi holidays: Good Friday: Varies Easter Monday: Varies King's Birthday: April 19 National Flag Day: April 25 Ascension Day: May 12 Public Holiday: July 22 Reed Dance: Varies-August or September Independence Day: September 6 Christmas Day: December 25 Boxing Day: December 26 Incwala: Varies- December or January


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications. Bonner, Philip. Kings, Commoners and Concessionaires. Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983. Booth, Alan R. Swaziland: Tradition and Change in a Southern African Kingdom. Boulder: Westview Press, 1983. Grotpeter, John J. Historical Dictionary of Swaziland. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1975. Jones, David. Aid and Development in Southern Africa: British Aid to Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. London: Croom Helm, 1977. Kuper, Hilda. Sobhuza II, Ngwenyama and King of Swaziland: The Story of an Hereditary Ruler and His Country. London: Duckworth, 1978. Kuper, Hilda. An African Aristocracy: Rank Among the Swazi. Reprinted with new preface. London: Oxford University Press, 1961 (C. 1947). Matsebula, J.A. History of Swaziland. Cape Town: Longman 1988. Matsebula, J.A. The Eye of the King. Cape Town: Maskew Miller, 1983. Potholm, Christian P. Swaziland: The Dynamics of Political Modernization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. Selwyn, Percy. Industries in the Southern African Perifery: A Study of Industrial Development in Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. London: Croom Helm, 1975. The Sixth National Development Plan (1990/91-1992/93). Swaziland: Government Printing Office, 1990. For information on economic trends, commercial development, production, trade regulations, and tariff rates, contact the International Trade Administration, US Department of Commerce, Washington, DC. 20230 or any Commerce Department District Office. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- May 1990 -- Editor: Jim Pinkelman Department of State Publication 8174 Background Notes Series -- This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. (###)