Swaziland

Swaziland is Africa's last absolute monarchy, found in the north-east of Southern Africa - it is surrounded for the most part by South Africa and on the Eastern side, by Mozambique.  It is a small country, 175 kilometers north to south and about 130 kilometers across. 

Swaziland gained independence from Great Britain in 1968 and has always consisted of a population of ethnic Swazis unified by a common language (iSiswati - similar to isiZulu) and governed by a king.

Swazis are proud people dedicated to cultural traditions and values.  The king is known as the Ngwenyama and is the head of state, currently King Mswati III.  The current king replaced his father, the much loved King Sobhuza II in 1986.  The king traditionally rules with his mother, known as the Ndlovukati.  The king will appoint the prime minister who is head of government, this monarchial parliamentary system is well supported by the majority of the populace.

The majority of the population is still rural and traditional round mud-hut homes are dotted over the kingdom together in communities or homesteads which allow families access to land, subsistence agriculture and a base for family members.  Most of the land is controlled by a strict chiefdom system which allocates plots and oversees their usage.  Life at a homestead is simple, although electricity is becoming more widespread - many homes still are without.  Free range livestock roams around and fruit and vegetables, including the staple corn (mielies) are grown in many of the homesteads, this is still a key feature of the strong relationship Swazi's have with the land and the benefits it brings.  Swaziland's mild climate, especially where we are located in the North East is mild and ideal for growing subtropical fruits like mangoes, avocados, paw-paws and citrus fruits.   Although in recent years low rainfall has placed pressure on the yields of agriculture.

In Swaziland the handcraft industry thrives on local skills used for woodwork, stone carving, glassware and beaded jewelry, basket making and weaving.  There are well established craft businesses which make high quality, well designed products and a trip to Swaziland should involve visiting some of the craft shops and studios.  Roadside craft also offers authentic and quality objects like grass carpets, stone carvings and baskets.  You can also be assured of a friendly smile and positive interaction with vendors.  Swazis are warm and welcoming people and take great pride in their craft work. 

The country's GDP (2016) is $11 billion.  It is classified as a lower income/developing country with an economy centered on agriculture (farming mainly sugar cane, pineapples and citrus fruit). 
 
The population in 2015 measured 1,100,000.  The health of the population has been long been compromised by the high HIV infection rate, some say, the highest in the world mainly due to the dominating patriarchal culture, polygamy and the subversion of women's voices in their own choices over sexual health .  Life expectancy is said to be one of the lowest, at 50 years old.  This is a sobering reality and one is confronted by many difficult issues when culture clashes with modern day realities.  

Nevertheless, I love this quote about Swaziland: 

"It is important not to illustrate Swaziland as a "tin-pot" kingdom with poverty banging on the door of every mud hut in the kingdom.  It is a magical place in Africa with a very distinct personality, which times seems to have left behind.  We have a bright future here and we will shine, but like many of the roads in Africa, ours is littered with potholes"  (Frances Stephens)