issue 184 - June 1988
This year Swaziland celebrates 20 years of independence after 54 years as a British protectorate. Its monarchy emerged from British rule almost as powerful as it had been before colonisation.
The king, Mswati II, together with the queen mother, heads the political, religious and social system, ruling through his tribal chiefs. In his name they hold and distribute Swazi national land - about half the surface area - but the most fertile land is still in the hands of white settler farmers.
The country divides into four regions: in the West is the Highveld, the mountainous area harbouring Swaziland's asbestos and iron ore deposits. Deforestation and overgrazing have denuded the region but 40,000 hectares in the Usutu forests have been planted with pine, making it one of the world's biggest created forests.
The Middleveld is an area of lush rolling landscape watered by Swaziland's four rivers. Rice, citrus fruit and bananas are grown here under irrigation, with maize, cotton, beans, tobacco and pineapples cultivated on the dryer parts.
Moving east, next is the Lowveld with its bush vegetation and cattle ranches. The fourth region, bordering on Mozambique, is the Lubombo plateau with its cattle and mixed farming.
Local farmers are becoming more involved in growing tobacco, cotton and sugar-cane for export but the major producers are the foreign companies, attracted by Swaziland's low taxes, who seek cheap labour rather than middle-class consumers. This suits the government well since it relies on peasant support and so has not encouraged the growth of a rural trading class.
Compared with other Southern African countries, Swaziland is politically stable in the firm grip of its monarch. The economy is fairly strong but dominated by South Africa The country's relations with the front-line states is ambivalent. Although still a member of SADCC, the economic alliance, Swazi co-operation with South Africa over ANC activists has effectively led to its exclusion from the front-line grouping.
The future for many Swazis is not particularly sunny. Much of the country's wealth is in foreign-owned companies and in the towns. Rural homesteads, where most people still live, are poor and disease-ridden: nearly one quarter of Swazi children die before they are five. The depreciation of the rand-linked local currency may have boosted export earnings but it has also put up the price of food and medical imports.
The tourists, mainly from South Africa, who flock to the Royal Swazi Hotel, the casino and the generally easier social climate may not remark the rising prices as they saunter through the Mbabane market with its knobkerries and knick-knacks. But it is a different matter in the local markets where Swazis shopping - for food - are in earnest.
Leader: King Mswati III
Economy: GNP per capita n/a
People: 676,000 - one of the youngest populations in the world with 50% under 15 years old in 1986.
Health: Infant mortality 105 per 1000 live births (US 10 per 1,000). 25% of children die before 5th birthday.
Culture: Predominantly Swazi people, with a 2% white settler population; also some South African and Mozambiquan refugees
Source: Africa Guide 1987.