What Should I Know About Swaziland?

Brendan McGuigan

Swaziland is a tiny country in southern Africa. It covers 6,700 square miles (17,400 sq. km), making it just a bit smaller than the state of New Jersey. The country is bordered by both South Africa and Mozambique.

Swaziland is a country in southern Africa, and is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique.
Swaziland is a country in southern Africa, and is bordered by South Africa and Mozambique.

The Swazi are a Bantu group that began migrating sometime in the late 15th century, eventually settling in Zululand at the end of the 18th century before being forced further north by the Zulu. The nation gets its name from the leader Mswati II, who did the most of the various leaders to consolidate Swazi power in the region and strengthen their borders in the middle part of the 19th century.

Swaziland had a relatively amicable relationship with the British imperial power that controlled their country. The British gave assistance to the Swazi in strengthening their borders against the Zulu, and afforded the Swazi a great deal of autonomy in how their country was run. An election occurred in 1964 under the auspices of the British colonial government, in which every seat was won by a single party — the Imbokodvo National Movement (INM). Swaziland achieved full independence in 1968, after a series of changes implemented to prepare the country. In the first election following independence, a rival party took 20% of the vote, capturing three or the twenty-four seats of parliament. In response the king dissolved parliament and repealed the constitution.

Although the government has since introduced some democratic reforms, and the country is no longer in a state of emergency, it continues to be fairly anti-democratic. Numerous human rights abuses are reported regularly, and free and open elections have still not been seen. The current king is also often criticized for his lavish lifestyle, even though the vast majority of his citizens live in abject poverty. The health care and education systems in Swaziland also leave something to be desired — Swaziland recently surpassed Botswana to have the questionable distinction of possessing the highest incidence of HIV/AIDs infection in the world.

Although small, Swaziland is blessed with many of the best wildlife parks in Africa. The tourist infrastructure in Swaziland is quite good when compared with many of its neighbors, and the Swazi people are often spoken of as kind and generous, as well as fun loving. While the democratic situation in Swaziland leaves a great deal to be desired, and dissidents reportedly suffer at the hands of the governments, much of the outright violence and strife that plagues other central African countries is absent from Swaziland, making it a desirable tourist destination.

Swaziland can most easily be reached from neighboring South Africa. Flights leave daily from Johannesburg, and buses also leave regularly from most of the major South African cities.

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