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Atlas Swaziland

Country (long form)
Kingdom of Swaziland
Mbabane; note - Lobamba is the royal and legislative capital
Total Area
6,703.89 sq mi
17,363.00 sq km
1,083,289 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
English (official, government business conducted in English), siSwati (official)
76.7% total, 78.0% male, 75.6% female (1995 est.)
Christian 60%, indigenous beliefs 40%
Life Expectancy
39.54 male, 41.37 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
1 lilangeni (E) = 100 cents
GDP (per capita)
$4,200 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
private sector about 70%, public sector about 30%
mining (coal and asbestos), wood pulp, sugar, soft drink concentrates
sugarcane, cotton, corn, tobacco, rice, citrus, pineapples, sorghum, peanuts; cattle, goats, sheep
Arable Land
soft drink concentrates, sugar, wood pulp, cotton yarn, refrigerators, citrus and canned fruit
motor vehicles, machinery, transport equipment, foodstuffs, petroleum products, chemicals
Natural Resources
asbestos, coal, clay, cassiterite, hydropower, forests, small gold and diamond deposits, quarry stone, and talc
Current Environmental Issues
limited supplies of potable water; wildlife populations being depleted because of excessive hunting; overgrazing; soil degradation; soil erosion
Telephones (main lines in use)
20,000 (1996)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
0 (1996)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
2 (1999)

In eastern Swaziland archaeologists have discovered human remains dating back 110,000 years, but the Swazi people arrived only relatively recently. During the great Bantu migration into southern Africa, one clan of the Nguni, moving down the east coast, settled around modern Maputo in Mozambique. Eventually the Dlamini family founded a dynasty there, but by the middle of the 18th century, pressure from the other clans forced a Dlamini king, Ngwane III, to lead his people south to what is now southern Swaziland, around the Pongola River. The Swazi now consider Ngwane III to be their first king.

Under pressure from the Zulu, the next king, Sobhuza I, withdrew to the Ezulwini Valley, which remains the centre of Swazi royalty and rituals today. King Mswazi, who ascended the throne next, was a gifted warrior and diplomat, and by the time he cashed his chips in 1868 the Swazi nation was secure.

The Zulus frequently clashed with the British and the Boers, which relieved pressure on the Swazis but created other problems. Swaziland attracted a ragtag bunch of great white hunters, inconsequential traders, fervent missionaries and land hungry farmers looking to feed their cattle. The kingdom's land was being gobbled up in leases granted to the Europeans, but in 1877 the British decided to run the place along their own lines and they annexed it lock, stock and barrel. The Swaziland Convention of 1881 guaranteed the nation's independence on paper, while considerably contracting its borders, and 'independence' proved to be just a word. In practice the Brits and Boers pursued their own interests with chaotic results, and after the Boer War the victors took over the reigns of power. Swaziland joined the long list of countries administered by London.

During the 20th century, land ownership grew into an issue threatening the viability of Swazi culture, given that Swazi kings are considered to hold the kingdom in trust for their subjects. With a large proportion of the kingdom in foreign hands, King Labotsibeni encouraged Swazis to buy back the farm, and many emigrated to South Africa to raise money by working in the mines. Land was gradually returned to the kingdom, both by direct purchase and by the British government, and at independence in 1968 around two-thirds of the kingdom was back in Swazi control. Britain's 66-year rule was overturned peacefully, and many streets in Mbabane retain their colonial-era names, perhaps indicative of the good will the colonial administration left behind.

Swaziland inherited a constitution largely the work of the British, and in 1973 King Sobhuza II suspended it on the grounds that it did not reflect Swazi culture. Four years later parliament reconvened under a new constitution that vested all power in the king. Sobhuza was followed in 1986 by King Mswati, who continues to maintain and represent tradition. He runs the country with the Council of Ministers, a small core of advisers. There is a little dissent in the country, although most Swazis seem committed to maintaining their culture despite external pressures of modernisation.

Opposition parties remain illegal, and in 1995 the National Assembly and the homes of the deputy prime minister and the vice-chancellor of the University of Swaziland were burned in student riots. Following a general strike later that year the king's powers were partially reduced, and in 1997 the heads of Mozambique and South Africa held talks with the king on further democratisation in Swaziland.

Since then King Mswati and the pro-democracy forces have engaged in a tit-for-tat game of one-upmanship; the increasingly fearless unions have organised strikes and bans on imported and exported products, which has resulted in government bans on trade union meetings and the reintroduction of a 60-day detention law; pro-democracy groups have refused to recognise the Public Order Act which forbids party politics in the kingdom and requires police permission to hld a meeting and, in return, the king's office has refused to comment on a UN-sponsored report on the country's constitution.