BACKGROUND NOTES; SWAZILAND
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Official Name: Kingdom of Swaziland
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Swazi(s).
Population (1992 est.): 860,000. Annual growth rate (1991 est.):
3.4%. Ethnic groups: The great majority is Swazi, the remainder Zulu
Religions: Christian and indigenous beliefs. Languages: English and
SiSwati (both official).
Education: Years compulsory--none. Attendance--99% primary school; 44%
secondary school. Literacy--64%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--98/1,000. Life expectancy--53 yrs.
males; 60 yrs. females.
Work force (12% of population): Agriculture and forestry--30%.
Financial and social services--26%. Mining and manufacturing--18%.
Transport and communications--8%. Construction--7%.
Area: 17,363 sq. km. (6,704 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than New Jersey.
Cities: Capital--Mbabane (pop. 55,000 est.). Principal commercial
city--Manzini (pop. 66,000 est.).
Terrain: Mountainous, plateau.
Climate: Near-temperate, subtropical, 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: 4 regions, 4 municipal governments, and 40
Tinkhundla (traditional administrative units).
Political parties: None permitted by law. Suffrage: Universal.
Flag: Five horizontal stripes--blue, yellow, crimson, yellow, blue--
with shield, two spears, and staff centered on wide crimson band.
GDP (1990 est.): $704 million. Real growth rate (1991): 7%. Per
capita income (1990): $900.
Natural resources: Asbestos, coal, diamonds, timber, hydroelectric
Agriculture (20% of GDP): Products--sugar cane, corn, citrus fruit,
livestock, wood, pineapple, cotton, tobacco. Cultivated land--16%
(crops plus commercial forests).
Manufacturing (18% of GNP): Types--sugar refining, light manufactured
goods, woodpulp, textiles, ginned cotton, processed foods, beverages,
Trade (1991 est.): Exports--$575 million: sugar, soft drink
concentrate, woodpulp, wood products, manufactures, canned fruit,
asbestos, citrus, vegetables, meat and meat products. Major markets--
South Africa, Canada, EEC, US. Imports (1991 est.)--$637 million:
motor vehicles, heavy machinery, fuel and lubricants, foodstuffs,
clothing. Major suppliers--South Africa, UK, Japan, Germany.
Official exchange rate: 1 lilangeni (pl. emalangeni)= 1 South African
rand; 3.1 emalangeni=US$1 (1992 average). (###)
Traditionally, Swazis have been subsistence farmers and herders; a
number are now working in the growing formal economy and in government.
Some work in mines in South Africa.
Christianity in Swaziland is sometimes mixed with traditional beliefs
and practices. Most Swazis ascribe a special spiritual role to the
The country's official languages are SiSwati (an 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. 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 early 1800s and established themselves in the area of
modern 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.
Swazi 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. During Mswati's reign, 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. The Swazi interests were administered from
1894 to 1903 by South Africans. In 1903, the British assumed control.
In 1921, Swaziland established its first legislative body--an advisory
council of elected white representatives mandated to advise the British
High Commissioner on non-Swazi affairs. In 1944, the high commissioner
conceded that the council had 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 1921, after more than 20 years of rule by Queen Regent Labotsibeni,
Sobhuza II became Ngwenyama (the lion) or head of the Swazi nation.
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 racial discrimination induced
the United Kingdom to prepare Swaziland for independence.
Political activity intensified in the early 1960s. Several political
parties 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 and his council, formed the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM), a
political group that capitalized on its close 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 INM and four other parties, most having more radical
platforms, competed in the election. The INM won all 24 elective seats.
Having solidified its political base, the INM incorporated many demands
of the more radical parties, especially that of immediate independence.
In 1966, the UK 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 first post-independence elections were held in May 1972.
The INM received about 75% of the vote. The Ngwane National Liberatory
Congress (NNLC) received slightly more than 20% of the vote and 3 seats
In response to the NNLC votes, King Sobhuza repealed the 1968
constitution on April 12, 1973, and dissolved parliament. He assumed all
powers of government and prohibited all political parties and trade
unions from operating. He justified his actions as having removed 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 Sobhuza died in August 1982, and Queen Regent Dzeliwe assumed the
duties of Head of State. In 1983, an internal dispute led to the
replacement of the prime minister and the eventual replacement of
Dzeliwe by a new Queen Regent Ntombi. Ntombi's son, Prince Makhosetive,
was named heir to the Swazi throne. Real power at this time was
concentrated in the Liqoqo, a traditional advisory body which 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
the throne and help end the continuing internal disputes.
He 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 present Prime Minister, appointed in
1989, is Obed Dlamini, a former trade unionist.
In 1988 and 1989, an underground political party, the People's United
Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) emerged and clandestinely criticized the
King and the government, calling for democratic reforms. In response to
this political threat and to growing popular calls for greater
accountablity in government, the King and the Prime Minister , in 1990,
initiated an ongoing national debate on the constitutional and political
future of Swaziland.
This debate produced a number of political reforms, approved by the
King, including direct and secret election of legislative
representatives. These reforms, an incremental advance for democracy in
Swaziland, were incorporated into preparations for national elections
scheduled for June/July 1993.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
According to Swazi law and custom, the monarch holds supreme executive,
legislative, and judicial power. In general practice, the monarch's
power is delegated through a dualistic system: modern, statutory
bodies, like the cabinet, and less formal, traditional governmental
structures. At present, 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 be
approved by the King. Executive authority is exercised by a royally
appointed prime minister (head of government) and cabinet.
For local administration, Swaziland is divided into four regions, the
administrators of which are appointed by the King. Manzini, Mbabane,
and two other towns have municipal governments. Parallel to this
statutory government structure is a traditional system consisting of the
King and his traditional advisers, traditional courts, and 40 Tinkhundla
(subregional districts in which the traditional chiefs are grouped).
In 1992, the King appointed a committee to represent a cross-section of
Swazi political opinion, including comments from the public at large.
The committee recommended (and the King approved) a number of
significant reforms of the electoral process (to include direct election
of parliament in mid-1993), the Tinkhundla system, and the national
government. Several measures remain in force, however, that could
stifle further political liberalization. Chief among them are the
arbitrary detention powers of the government and the ban on political
Principal Government Officials
Head of State--King Mswati III
Prime Minister--Obed M. Dlamini
Foreign Affairs--George Mamba
Ambassador to the United States--Absalom Vusani Mamba
Ambassador to the United Nations--Dr. Timothy Dlamini
Swaziland maintains an embassy in the US at Suite 441, Van Ness Center,
4301 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (202-362-6683).
Swaziland's UN Mission is at 866 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (212 371-
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 middle-management positions. Although about 70% of Swazis
live in rural areas, nearly every homestead has a wage earner. Despite
several years of strong economic growth, however, the economy has been
unable to create jobs at the same pace that new job seekers enter the
market. This is due in large measure to the country's high 3.4%
population growth rate, which also strains the country's natural
heritage and its ability to provide adequate social services, such as
health care and education.
About 57% of Swazi territory is held by the Crown in trust for the Swazi
nation. The balance is privately owned, much of it by foreigners. The
question of land use and ownership remains a sensitive one.
For Swazis living on rural homesteads, the principal occupation is
subsistence farming (principally maize) and livestock herding. Cash
crops such as cotton are also grown. Culturally, cattle are important
symbols of wealth and status, but they are being used increasingly for
milk, meat, and profit.
Swaziland enjoys well-developed road links with South Africa. It also
has railroads running east to west and north to south. The older east-
west link, called the Goba Line, makes it possible to export bulk goods
from Swaziland through the port of Maputo in Mozambique. Until
recently, most of Swaziland's exports were shipped through this port.
Conflict in Mozambique over the past few years has diverted many Swazi
exports to ports in South Africa. A north-south rail link, completed in
1986, provides 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 Swaziland's
leading export earner and private-sector employer. Soft-drink
concentrate (a US investment) is the country's second largest export
earner, followed by woodpulp and lumber from cultivated pine forests.
Pineapple, citrus fruit, and cotton are other important agricultural
Swaziland currently mines asbestos, coal, and diamonds, almost all for
export. There is also a quarry industry for domestic construction.
Mining typically contributes just under 3% to Swaziland's GDP each year.
Recently, a number of industrial firms have located at the industrial
estate at Matsapha, near Manzini. In addition to processed agricultural
and forestry products, the fast-growing industrial sector at Matsapha
also produces garments, textiles, and a surprising variety of light
manufactures. The Swaziland Industrial Development Corporation (SIDC)
has assisted in bringing many of these industries to the country.
Government programs encourage Swazi entrepreneurs to run small and
medium-sized firms. Tourism is also important, attracting more than
270,000 visitors annually.
From the mid-1980s onward, foreign investment in the manufacturing
center has boosted economic growth rates significantly. Moreover, since
mid-1985, the depressed value of the currency has increased the
competitiveness of Swazi exports and moderated the growth of imports,
generating trade surpluses. The country has run small trade deficits
for the past 3 years, however. South Africa and the European Community
are major customers for Swazi exports, and the US is a significant
market for Swazi sugar, with purchases of 32,500 metric tons in 1991.
Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, and the Republic of South Africa
form the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), in which import duties
apply uniformly to member countries. Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, and
South Africa are also joined in the Common Monetary Area (CMA), in which
the free transfer and unrestricted use of funds are permitted.
Swaziland issued its own currency, the lilangeni (emalangeni in the
plural) in September 1974. The lilangeni, while not tied to the rand,
at present trades at par with it.
Swaziland is a member of the UN and the Organization of African Unity.
More than 40 countries have accredited ambassadors to the Kingdom,
although only 6 have resident representatives. Swaziland maintains
diplomatic missions in Brussels (EEC), London, Denmark, Seoul, Ottawa,
Maputo, Nairobi, New York (UN), and Washington, DC.
Because of its location, Swaziland has close economic ties with South
Africa; 15-20,000 Swazis work there in mines, industries, and farms.
Roughly 90% of Swaziland's imports either originate in or transit
through South Africa. Although diplomatic representatives have not been
exchanged, a South African Trade Commissioner is resident in Mbabane.
The United States seeks to maintain and strengthen the good bilateral
relations that have existed since the Kingdom of Swaziland became
independent in 1968. US policy there stresses continued economic and
In the past, the US has assisted Swaziland in institutional and human
resource development, agricultural development, and the expansion of the
rural health and rural water systems. Presently, it continues to focus
on education and job-training but has expanded into other important
areas, such as private sector development, family planning, and the
development of a more job-relevant primary school curriculum. The US
brings an average of 22 Swazi students and professionals to the US each
year, from both the private and public sectors, primarily for master's
and doctorate degrees. Some 70 Peace Corps volunteers work in
Swaziland, principally as secondary school science and math teachers.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Stephen H. Rogers
Deputy Chief of Mission--Philip M. Jones
Director, AID Mission--Valerie Dickson-Horton
Director, Peace Corps--James Kelley
The US embassy in Swaziland is in the Central Bank Building, Warner
Street, PO Box 199, Mbabane. (###)
Customs: US citizens do not need visas to enter Swaziland.
Climate: Swaziland's climate is moderate, similar to that of the middle
Atlantic states but drier and 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. Tapwater should be boiled or filtered. The
climate is basically healthful. Travelers should consult most recent
Telecommunications: International and local telephone and telegraph
services are available. Mbabane is seven time zones ahead of eastern
Transportation: Regular air service to and from Matsapha Airport, near
Mbabane and Manzini, links Swaziland with major international routes.
Taxis and rental cars are available at the airport and in Mbabane.
Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public
Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC -- April
1993 -- Editor: Anita M. Stockman
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 Superindendent of Documents, US Government Printing
Office, Washington , DC 20402.
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