Swaziland Overview

Published by swazi Review of Commerce & Industry (Pty) Ltd

Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Weir on the Mlawula River at dawn, Mlawula Nature Reserve © Kate Braun / SNTC


In the 2014 edition of the Parliament-opening Speech from the Throne, His Majesty King Mswati III applauded and thanked the nation for its support in making each of the past year’s traditional celebrations a resounding success. The monarch singled out the Umhlanga (Reed Dance) and Incwala (First Fruits) ceremonies, saying they had witnessed praiseworthy turnouts by all regiments, which places the future of the kingdom’s cultural heritage in safe hands. The traditions to which His Majesty referred are unique and rooted in the ages.

The Swazi people are descendants of the Bantu who originated in the region that in the present day encompasses Cameroon and southeast Nigeria’s adjoining states of Benue and Cross River. The ensuing Bantu migrations that snowballed into one of the most epic movements in human history followed three key routes - Western, Central and Eastern. The Bantu Swazi took the Eastern Route, then headed south through the territories that today comprise Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, before turning inland from the latter’s southernmost coastal belt.

Creating the State
The Swazi conquered neighbouring chiefdoms and kingdoms that were characterised by Sotho Nguni tribes (Emakhandzambili) such as the Magagula, Maseko, Simelane and others: diplomacy and arranged marriages were tactics employed to create strategic alliances. The use of regiments in warfare became more pronounced between the 1820s and 1840s when the entire Southern African region underwent radical state-building, fuelled by the reign of King Shaka of the Zulu and the devastating effects of the Madlatule famine.

Choosing the King
The heir to the throne is chosen according to his mother’s status as a Queen Mother. She is selected, based on her high rank, by the Royal Council following the king’s death. The king is always a Dlamini and never intermarries, so the Queen Mother is never a Dlamini. The king must be her only son and is expected to choose wives from various clans to ensure national unity. The monarchy is a dual one, with the balance of power lying with the king - Ngwenyama (lion) - and the Queen Mother, who is the Ndlovukazi (she-elephant). The Royal Council plays a key role in the selection of the heir to the throne. He must be unmarried, and if still a minor, the Queen Mother to the late king assumes the responsibility of Regent until the Crown Prince becomes the Ngwenyama.

Swazi Monarchs
It was under the leadership of Dlamini 1 (Matalatala), King Ngwane, that in the 1750s the Swazi also came to be known as both the Dlamini and the people of Ngwane (baka Ngwane).

King Sobhuza I (Somhlolo) ruled from 1815-1836. As the result of a vision, he advised the Swazi nation to choose ‘Umculu’ (book) over ‘Indilinga’ (money) in its dealings with the white settlers and fortune-hunters. This could partly explain why the University of Swaziland emblem is inscribed ‘Umculu sisekelo sesive’ (education is a national asset/ foundation).

King Mswati II, who reigned from 1839-1865, is credited as the greatest fighting Swazi king: he extended the boundaries of the country to incorporate places such as present-day Johannesburg, Pretoria, Hammanskraal, Vrede, Mkhuze and Kruger National Park. King Ludvonga ruled for a very short period, succeeded by King Ndvungunye.

King Mbandzeni ascended to the throne during the most difficult period in the history of the country (1880-1889). There was an influx of white settlers who came for reasons such as missionary work, farming, mining and grazing rights. It was a clash of cultures and traditions between the Boers and British and the Swazi that resulted in the loss of land belonging to the Swazi nation through concession grants overseen by Theophilus ‘Offy’ Shepstone.

King Bhunu (Ngwane V) led Swaziland when the Transvaal Boer Republic was in control of its political affairs (1890-1899), administered from headquarters located in Bremersdorp (present-day Manzini). The building was burnt down during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. Manzini’s shopping mall is situated in the area where King Bhunu was tried for ordering the execution of a suspected witch. He died in 1899, the year in which King Sobhuza II was born.

Between 1899-1921, Swaziland was under the leadership of Queen Regent, Labotsibeni Gwamile Mdluli: she was strong-willed and braved criticism by sending the young Sobhuza to school in South Africa. In 1907, Gwamile established the Lifa Fund to which all able-bodied Swazi people working within and outside the country contributed a portion of their wages, to be used for buying back land expropriated in the 1880s. The Gwamile Vocational and Commercial Training Institute in Matsapha was named in honour of her contributions to shaping the history of the country.

King Sobhuza II ascended to the throne on 20 December 1921 and ruled up until he died in 1982, making him the longest reigning monarch. He led Swaziland during the Colonial era and showed unwavering support for the British during the course of the Second World War: post-war projects created by the Commonwealth Development Corporation included the establishment of the Mhlume Sugar Estates which were meant to help Swazi veterans integrate back into civilian life. 

When the war ended, negotiations with Britain for self-rule were initiated and finally culminated in the granting of Independence on 6 September, 1968. Sobhuza II was crowned King and Ngwenyama of an Independent Swaziland through instruments handed over by George Thompson, who represented the British Queen at a colourful ceremony in the Somhlolo National Stadium. Independent Swaziland now had its own national flag, national coat of arms and national anthem:

The National Flag

  • Red = wars of the past
  • Yellow = mineral wealth/natural resources
  • Blue = peace and stability in Swaziland
  • Black & White Shield = racial harmony

The National Coat of Arms

  • Lion = King
  • Elephant = Queen Mother
  • Lidlabe = King’s Crown
  • Siyinqaba = United We Stand
  • Black & White Shield = racial harmony

The National Anthem
“Nkulunkulu Mnikati wetibusiso temaSwati,
Siyatibonga tonkhe tinhlanhla
Sibonga iNgwenyama yetfu
Live netintsaba nemifula
Busisa tiphatsimandla takaNgwane
Nguwe wedvwa Somandla wetfu
Sinike kuhlakanipha lokungenabucili
Simise usicinise

The Constitution
When the kingdom attained Independence in 1968 it inherited a Constitution that the Swazi nation deemed unsuitable to its traditional criteria. Westminster had acceded in part to certain constitutional changes suggested by King Sobhuza II, but these modifications never found full acceptance and the Constitution was consequently suspended. This freed the kingdom to pursue and refine the system of a National and Inner Council in consultation with local chiefs. The Lion of Swaziland ruled until his death in 1982, succeeded in 1986 by his son and current monarch, His Majesty King Mswati III, who ratified a new Constitution on 26 July 2005. The country held its most recent five-yearly Parliamentary elections towards the end of 2013.


The Head of State is always the king, currently His Majesty King Mswati III who ascended to the throne on 25 April 1986. Both the political and legal systems feature the simultaneous operation of traditional institutions and Western methods of modern governance and Roman Dutch Common Law. The Constitution of Swaziland Act No. 001/2005 came into force on 26 July 2005, is the supreme law of the land and provides for three, mutually independent arms of government - the Executive, a bicameral Legislature and the Judiciary. Swaziland’s Tinkhundla (Constituencies)–based electoral system is democratic and participatory: it emphasises devolution of power from central government to Tinkhundla areas and individual merit as a basis for election or appointment to public office.

The Executive
This arm of government’s primary function is to execute the decisions of the judiciary, to implement the laws made by the Legislature and to oversee the administration of the country. It is also the Executive’s role to defend the Constitution. The Executive authority of Swaziland vests in the king as the Head of State: he may exercise this authority directly, or through the Cabinet or a Minister. The Head of State has the authority to sign and assent to Bills, summon and dissolve Parliament, receive foreign envoys, reprieve or commute sentences, declare a State of Emergency, confer honours, establish a commission or vusela, and order a referendum.

The Executive arm consists of the Cabinet and civil servants. The Cabinet is made up of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and 18 Ministers. They are responsible for policy-making, administration and executing the functions of government. The Prime Minister is the Chairman of the Cabinet and the leader of government in business. He is appointed from the House of Assembly by the king with the recommendation of the Liqoqo (Kings Advisory Council). The king appoints ministers from both chambers of Parliament and on the recommendation of the Prime Minister: at least half are from the elected members of the House.

The Judiciary
Its main function is to adjudicate and to interpret Acts of Parliament and the common law. The judiciary also has the power to issue orders or directions as may be necessary to ensure that law, peace and order are maintained: it is independent and subject only to the Constitution. The judiciary comprises the Courts of general jurisdiction, the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Magistrate Courts and other specialised courts such as Swazi/Customary Courts. The Industrial Court and the Industrial Court of Appeal are specialist tribunals whose jurisdiction is confined to labour disputes. The judges of the superior courts and the specialist tribunals are appointed by the king on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC): magistrates are appointed by the JSC. Officers of the Swazi Courts that administer Swazi law and custom are appointed by the king.

The Legislature
It creates laws for the peace, order and good governance of Swaziland. The power of the king and Parliament to make laws is exercised through bills which may be introduced into either chamber for debate or passage into law, except for a money bill that must be introduced in the House of Assembly before proceeding to the Senate.

Swaziland’s Parliament is bicameral, comprising the Senate and the House of Assembly. Section 94 (1) of the Constitution states that the Senate shall consist of not more than 31 members: it presently consists of 30. Ten Senators, at least half of whom must be female, are elected by members of the House of Assembly so as to represent a cross-section of Swazi society. A further 20, at least eight of whom must be female, are appointed by the king acting in his discretion after consultation with such bodies as he may deem appropriate.

The House of Assembly, in terms of section 95 (1) of the Constitution, shall consist of a maximum of 76 members: it currently consists of 66, 55 of whom were elected from Tinkhundla constituencies, and 10 nominated by the king as provided for in the Constitution. The 66th member is the Speaker of the House, who is elected from outside the House, as sanctioned by the Constitution.


Swaziland presents a near complete spectrum of the settings that typify the African continent’s appeal, lacking only desert and beaches but just a short distance from those of neighbouring countries. Climatic differences and landscape changes within this small kingdom are pronounced, thanks to altitudes that range from 120 metres above sea level in the east to almost 2 000 metres in the northwest.

Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Traditional dancers at Swazi Cultural Village, Mantenga Nature Reserve

© Kate Braun / SNTC

Provinces of South Africa to the north, west and south; Mozambique to the east.

Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere – just over 17 000 sq km (approx
10 000 sq miles); limited area of approx 193 km from north to south and 145 km from east to west.

Definitive vistas, geology and flora characterise the kingdom’s four regions:

  • Highveld: This westernmost, mountainous and forested belt divided by many rivers, valleys and gorges has an average altitude of 1 300m.
  • Middleveld: Lush, fertile valleys dominate this adjacent, undulating area where most of the country’s agricultural activities take place in an ideally warmer climate.
    Lowveld: Featuring dense African bush abundant in indigenous wildlife and flora, this expansive area is also the seat of Swaziland’s iconic sugar plantations.
  • Lubombo: This region separates the Lowveld from Mozambique’s coastal plain by means of a lengthwise escarpment with an average altitude of 600m: Swaziland’s three main rivers have carved deep gorges en route to the Indian Ocean.


Manzini, Hhohho, Shiselweni and Lubombo comprise Swaziland’s administrative districts, while at local government level, Mbabane and Manzini are run by city councils and Ezulwini, Pigg’s Peak, Nhlangano and Siteki each have a town council. Ongoing improvements to infrastructure and service delivery are being witnessed throughout the country.

Getting There

  • King Mswati III International Airport in the northeast is 45 km from Manzini and 80 km from Mbabane
  • Border posts are open daily, some around-the-clock in holiday seasons; tarred roads link to main centres of South Africa and Mozambique
  • Maputo in Mozambique is the nearest harbour

Shuttle buses operate between the airport and Mbabane, Manzini and Ezulwini; car rental, minibus and taxi transport is readily available. (For road distances from Mbabane, refer to Useful Information)

Swaziland’s capital city, Mbabane, and its centre of industry and commerce, Manzini are both modern, bustling business centres. Most of the kingdom’s trading- and development-partner countries have resident consular representatives and/or diplomatic missions. A wide choice of hotels and a variety of alternative accommodation are available, along with top-class venues for hosting think-tanks and expos. Construction of an International Conference Centre with adjacent luxury hotel is currently under way at Ezulwini.

Government Seat
Mbabane is the nation’s capital, set amid the scenic highveld’s Dlangeni Hills and with panoramic views that extend far eastward across the Ezulwini Valley. Thanks to the mild, temperate climate afforded by a 1 200 metre altitude, it was at the turn of the 20th century established as the British colonial administration’s headquarters.

Mbabane is the seat of almost all government ministries and departments, as well as most diplomatic representation. Also headquartered here are the media houses that produce the local newspapers and the state-run news, television and radio services. The office space on offer in the central business district is of a high standard, and industrial zones are conveniently sited on the outskirts of the city.

Shopping facilities are highlighted by a large plaza and two malls to fulfil all personal financial and retail requirements, while bespoke hotels and resorts plus a full spectrum of social and sporting facilities are close at hand. Mbabane’s residential suburbs are a mixture of styles that evince its colonial past and contemporary interests: these and the downtown areas combine to make a pleasant-looking city, set in picturesque surrounds.

Industrial Axis
Manzini, about 40 km southeast of Mbabane, is the country’s largest city and situated in its most densely populated, middleveld region. Historically, this location made Manzini ideal for Swaziland’s first ‘European-style’ economic activities: it was originally called Bremersdorp - after the Boer businessman who opened a small trading store here in 1885 - and for a time served as the country’s first capital.

Manzini duly grew into a small city and, still the most convenient trading hub from which to serve all four regions of the country, today serves as the principal commercial and industrial centre on which all national road and rail transport networks converge. Formal sector commercial activities are concentrated in the central business district: the city as a whole boasts well-developed infrastructure as the City Council strives to meet current and projected commercial and industrial demands. Services include transport access, financial, retail and wholesale outlets, tourism and leisure facilities. The upmarket Riverstone Mall was completed during 2011, and residential, business and industrial sites are available at reasonable prices. Despite its predominantly utilitarian role, Manzini is an attractive city – made especially so by the Mzimnene River that flows through it – and offers not only appealing residential suburbs but also premier seats of learning as well as healthcare facilities of the highest order.

Factory Towns
Matsapha is the country’s most extensive and active industrial zone. Strategically situated just 10 km from Manzini and 32 km from Mbabane, it was until recently an ever-growing factory park: today the Matsapha Town Board is a fully-fledged administrative entity in its own right and the vast area has undergone substantial upgrading and expansion of its primary infrastructure, with water and electricity supply, telephone and emergency services markedly improved.

Apart from the sugar and timber industries, the vast majority of both local and international manufacturers are based here. Swaziland Railway has its HQ and operates a ‘dry port’ here, while also linking a container depot to areas where factory space and business premises are offered for lease. Additional land is available for development, plus government’s ongoing construction of factory shells is geared to attract new manufacturing industries. Financial institutions have established a presence in Matsapha to complement its network of support services.

Ngwenya, west of Mbabane, is the busiest border post. As part of government’s decentralisation drive and to encourage industry to locate here, an extensive factory park was constructed under the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development’s Millennium Projects. Ngwenya Glass is unique in the southern hemisphere, making a range of tableware, drinking glasses, vases, jugs and ornamental African animals from recycled glass. The iron ore site is among the oldest in the world. Sidwashini, near Mbabane, contains light manufacturing and service industries, along with an industrial site close to the city centre. The Malaysia-headquartered Limkokwing University of Creative Technology opened its Swaziland campus here in 2011.

Swaziland Foreign Trade and Investment

Brunsvigia radulosa at Logwaja Viewpoint, Malolotja Nature Reserve
© Kate Braun / SNTC


Cultural Heart
Lobamba is where visitors marvel at the architecturally eclectic Houses of Parliament and the spiritually infused Royal Lozitha Palace that serves primarily ceremonial and official functions. The National Archives and Museum is the storehouse of Swazi cultural treasures, while the Somholo National Stadium hosts the annual Independence Day Celebrations, an extensive roster of cultural events, concerts of contemporary and traditional music, and international soccer matches.

In Demand
Ezulwini, which translates from siSwati as ‘Valley of Heaven’, is currently the fastest growing area in the country. An International Convention Centre with adjacent luxury hotel is under construction there, in a vicinity already noted for its string of world-class hotels, resorts, lodges and casinos: these are supported by extensive shopping malls that afford convenient access to numerous retail outlets, taverns and restaurants, along with banking and facilities and real estate agencies. During 2014, work continued on the construction of an ultra-modern office park and mixed-use development, the first phase of which is scheduled for completion during the coming review period. Authentic handicrafts are for sale at a large open-air market with ample parking. Ezulwini has full township status and large-scale infrastructure development projects are ongoing.

The Countryside
Most of Swaziland’s relaxed and welcoming rural towns grew up around trading stores. Their expansion over the years has been facilitated and encouraged by government’s various and ongoing infrastructure-development programmes: of these, the tarring of roads has led not only to improved business connectivity, but also to magnificent scenic-drive opportunities for travellers.

Nhlangano - ‘meeting place’ - commemorates the historic encounter between King Sobhuza II and King George VI of Great Britain: today it serves as the Shiselweni District’s administrative headquarters and is the focal point of agricultural activities in southern Swaziland. Ample labour is at hand to serve the town’s small industrial estate, and a road link exists between the town and the railhead at Piet Retief in South Africa. The surrounding scenery is spectacular and abundant in flora and fauna - particularly around Mahamba and Msongweni Gorge – while other tourist attractions include a casino with conference facilities and shopping centre.

Simunye is the country’s third largest population centre, situated in a prominent sugar producing area. It features an attractive commercial complex with shops set amid interlinking gardens, as well as educational and training centres. Both here and at Mhlume, sugar-processing is the prime industry. In the sugarcane belt of the southern lowveld, Big Bend is named after a giant sweep in the Great Usutu River and is situated on the tarred road to the Lavumisa border post. Malkerns is a small town set in the heart of fertile, well-established agricultural country hallmarked by vast pineapple plantations. Tshaneni and Mankayane are also major agricultural centres; the latter supports Swaziland’s mohair industry.

Siteki is a small, picturesque escarpment town and administrative headquarters of the Lubombo district. Pigg’s Peak in the northwest once hosted Swaziland’s own gold rush - it bears the name of an early prospector – and is presently witnessing a resurgence of interest in its remaining gold reserves. Breathtaking views of timber-clad slopes and a luxury hotel-casino complex are among the more traditional tourist attractions.