April 19th, 2018 marked Swaziland’s 50-50 Golden Jubilee celebrations – the king’s 50th birthday and 50 years of independence. People heading to the celebration knew that they were in for speeches, dance and song, even poetry heralding Swaziland’s culture. What they did not expect is just what the kind did – King Mswati changed the name of the country from Swaziland to the Kingdom of eSwatini. Here are the Swaziland facts and other information you need to know about the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
The small country is known for stunning landscapes and being home to the Big Five, while being no stranger to controversy – most notably as the country with the highest HIV/AIDS and poverty rates in the world and for the king’s many wives and children.
The king may have changed the name of Swaziland today, but there is much more to know about the country than its name.
An overview of the Kingdom of Eswatini (aka Swaziland)
eSwatini is a tiny, landlocked country in Southern Africa. It is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world (meaning the king rules by royal decree). It is mountainous and known for being home to all of the Big Five (see below). The country’s official languages are Swazi (Siswati) and English, though many schoolchildren only speak English.
eSwatini was a territory of the British High Commission until it was officially granted independence, within the Commonwealth, in 1968, four years after its constitution was established. This is how it got Swaziland, a colonizer’s/anglicized version of its name.
Where is eSwatini (Swaziland)?
eSwatini is the smallest country in Africa and is landlocked, nestled inside South Africa, with a small border with Mozambique.
What does eSwatini/Swaziland mean?
The [former] name of the country, Swaziland, comes from one of the nation’s first kings – Mswati II. He is considered the greatest fighting king of the nation. “Swazi” is an anglicized version of that name, leading to the name of the country as Swaziland.
Why change the country’s name to the Kingdom of eSwatini?
It may be too early to make this call, especially as the king did not specify much in his speech at the celebration. But “Eswati” means a person of Swaziland. So, it could be inferred that the new name is meant to allude to a kingdom of the people.
50-50 Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Swaziland (the Kingdom of Eswatini)
On April 19th, 2018 King Mswati III turned 50; and 2018 marks 50 years of independence from the United Kingdom, so a double celebration was in order. The birthday celebrations were held in Manzini, one of the country’s two capitals. The ceremony included cultural dances, songs and poems, along with speeches by the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, and King Mswati III himself.
Speeches at the Golden Jubilee
The speeches focused on the future of eSwatini/Swaziland through education and jobs. Tsai Ing-wen announced a continued partnership between the countries (Swaziland is one of about 20 remaining countries that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation) through a scholarship program to Taiwanese universities. For more on this, read here where BBC calls eSwatini Taiwan’s last friend in Africa.
The king’s speech continued Ing-wen’s message of education with an emphasis on Vision 2022 and moving the country forward. He stressed tertiary education and the need to bring jobs to Swaziland. In addition to announcing changing the name of the country from Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini, to tepid reactions, he also announced that Swaziland would be officially taking on a leadership role in the fight against malaria. King Mswati III had previously announced a target of 2030 for the global elimination of malaria, and the country has been ahead of targets in its efforts.
The celebrations will continue on April 20th, 2018 with a public holiday focused on independence celebrations.
Troubling facts about Swaziland (the Kingdom of eSwatini)
While the 50-50 Golden Jubilee festivities would look to all outsiders a celebration of a venerated and supported leader, of a happy nation, looks can be deceiving. In contrast to the celebrations, there are facts about eSwatini that can’t be overlooked:
- Approximately 70% of eSwatini lives in abject poverty and the country suffers from malnutrition.
- eSwatini has the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world.
- Life expectancy in eSwatini is only 50 years for women, 51 for men (third lowest in the world).
- 1 in 6 children in eSwatini under the age of 15 has lost both of his/her parents to HIV/AIDS; approximately 70,000 children have been orphaned due to the disease.
- Nearly 80% of adult women in eSwatini have been victim to gender-based violence.
- There is strong control of state media and while internet access is not restricted, it is very expensive; it is rated “no media freedom” by Reporters Without Borders.
Future outlook for the Kingdom of eSwatini
eSwatini has a plan called Vision 2022, in which their goal is to reach first world status by 2022. This goal was mentioned in nearly every sentence of the king’s speech at the 50-50 celebration. The program is aimed at ensuring Swazi citizens “enjoy lifes [sic] of value and dignity in a safe and secure environment.” In the king’s speech, he focused on access to tertiary education and rewarding that education with jobs.
These goals seem honorable and lofty, and the speech sounds like there is laser-focus on achieving them. However, citizens are critical that the celebration itself cost millions and ended with a fly-by of the king’s brand new private jet, which has cost the country an estimated $13 million, with a $16.6 million special hangar planned for construction (it should also be noted that this is his second jet, the first purchased in 2012 for an estimated $9.5 million).
Polygamy, the Queen Mother and succession in the Kingdom of eSwatini
eSwatini’s kingdom and succession line look different than most monarchies. Apart from functioning as an absolute monarchy, in which the king rules by decree rather than using a parliamentary system (like the United Kingdom), eSwatini is distinct in its line of succession. And rather than the line of succession being about a first-born son, it is centered around the Queen Mother.
The king’s many wives and children
The king of eSwatini has many wives. It is considered rude to ask how many, but we are talking double-digits. His first wife is his “ritual wife,” and because she is expected to have more of a role in the government’s operations, she is not allowed to have children. The rest of the wives will have children, as until they become pregnant, they are only considered fiancé to the king; once pregnant, they “graduate” to bride. The current king is estimated to have 15 wives and his father, King Sobhuza II, is believed to have had 70 wives and 600 children.
The Queen Mother (Ndlovukati)
The Queen Mother functions as eSwatini’s mother, figuratively. But literally, she is the mother of the king. She is expected to have strong character
Succession in the Kingdom of eSwatini
Because the Queen Mother plays and important role, she is chosen, rather than the next king. When choosing a Queen Mother, she should exhibit the characteristics of the role and only have one son, as to not have competition for the choice of king. She is not chosen by the king, however.
The Queen Mother (or the Great Wife) is chosen by a council called the Liqoqo, after the reigning king dies. Once she is chosen, it is her son who becomes king. In the event that the new king is too young to rule, the Queen Mother and his uncles rule until he becomes of age.
The Big Five in eSwatini (the Kingdom of Swaziland)
The Big Five is a term used by game hunters referring to the five toughest animals to hunt on foot in Africa. These are the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape [or African] buffalo. While this term started with hunters, it is more popular now with visitors on safari and conservationists. All of the Big Five can be seen in eSwatini and are increasingly protected from poachers.
Game rangers are protected from criminal charges for injuries and death related to suspected poaching. Additional to this strong stance against poachers, many game parks are established to protect the Big Five in eSwatini.
The three main options to see the Big Five in eSwatini are Hlane Royal National Park, Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and Mkhaya Game Reserve.
Hlane Royal National Park
“Hlane” means wilderness in siSwati and was declared a national park in 1967. It is home to black rhino, lions, elephants, impala and a rich diversity of birds. They do not disclose the number of rhinos in the park to protect them from poaching. The park offers camping, lodging, biking and game drives. It is a bit smaller than most and there are three distinct areas
You can book lodging at Hlane Royal National Park here.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Mlilwane was declared a national park in 1961 and is the original conservation area in eSwatini, converted from a farm. It is the most visited park in eSwatini and offers a wider variety of activities. It is home to hippos, zebra, antelope and more wildlife, but they are not as easily seen as in some of the other parks.
You can book lodging at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary here.
Mkhaya Game Reserve
Mkhaya is a solely guided reserve and started with a different focus for conservation – protecting eSwatini’s unique cattle. Named for the iconic tree of eSwatini, Mkhaya is the only place in eSwatini with buffalo, and is also home to black and white rhinos, giraffes, antelope and more.
You can book lodging at Mkhaya Game Reserve here.
Cultural activities in eSwatini/Swaziland
Visitors looking for insight into Swazi culture and past can visit Mantenga Cultural Village. Nearby to Mbabane, the village is constructed to show the culture of the country.
Swazi cultural villages
If you are looking for a more immersive experience, the Shewula Mountain Camp is open to visitors, but the lodging is set in the living Shewula community. It is a community-based eco-tourism project in the mountains. Because of its location, it would be ideal to visit after Hlane.
Hiking in eSwatini/Swaziland
With some of the oldest rocks in the world, eSwatini is home to hiking with incredible landscapes. You can hike inside or near most of the game parks, but there are a few other places of note for hiking.
Sibebe Rock is the largest open face of granite in the world and second only to Australia’s Ayer’s Rock in size of freestanding rocks. You can enjoy a hike up it, or if you are an experienced climber, take its face as a challenge.
Emlembe is the highest peak in Swaziland and sits at the foot of Bulembu. You can start it from Bulembu Lodge if you aren’t camping.
Where to stay in eSwatini/Swaziland
For its size, Swaziland accommodation has a surprising amount of options. If you are planning to go on safari, I recommend you stay on site to make the early morning starts a little easier. Outside of the parks, great options include:
- Malandela’s Guest House is a perfect option near Manzini, with a pool and restaurant. It is also host to the annual MTN Bushfire Festival.
- Mogi Boutique Hotel is another option close to Manzini, in the valley.
- Bulembu Lodge is ideal for those looking to hike Emlembe.
- Shewula Mountain Camp is up in the mountains, and quite a trek from the city; ideal to visit from Hlane.
Malandela’s Guest House
Mogi Boutique Hotel
Bulembu Country Lodge
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