Swaziland History


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 Parliament.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. 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.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1993

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