The Fascinating History of Eswatini

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Key figures

Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland, has a rich history that is marked with various key figures who have contributed to how the nation evolved. Some of the notable figures include:

Mswati II (1839-1868)

Mswati II was the king of Swaziland from 1840 to 1868. He is credited with securing peaceful relations with British colonial administrators and forging a Swazi national identity. Mswati II was also instrumental in consolidating the power of the Swazi monarchy over other traditional leaders, which helped to create a more centralized political structure in Swaziland.

Sobhuza II (1899-1982)

Sobhuza II was the longest-reigning monarch of Swaziland, ruling from 1921 until his death in 1982. He is considered a key figure in Swaziland’s history for his role in the country’s transition from British protectorate to independent nation. Sobhuza II also played a key role in preserving Swazi culture and traditions during a time of rapid social change.

King Mswati III

King Mswati III is the current king of Eswatini, having ascended to the throne in 1986 at the age of 18. He is the son of Sobhuza II and has continued his father’s legacy of promoting Swazi cultural traditions while also leading the country in a more modern direction. King Mswati III has been a controversial figure, with critics decrying his absolute rule and lavish lifestyle while many Swazis continue to live in poverty.

Ntfombi Tfwala

Ntfombi Tfwala was the queen mother of Swaziland from 1982 until 2021. As queen mother, she played an influential role in advising the king and representing the interests of the Swazi people. She was also instrumental in promoting global awareness of Swazi culture and traditions, including through her work with UNESCO.

Miles Sampa

Miles Sampa was a prominent Swazi political figure who played an important role in the country’s transition to democracy in the early 1990s. He was a member of the National Executive Committee of the banned political party, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO), and was instrumental in pushing for democratic reforms in Swaziland. Sampa was exiled from the country in 1992 and later returned as a member of parliament after the country’s first democratic elections in 1993.

Ngwane III

Ngwane III was the king of Swaziland from 1889 to 1899. He is regarded as a key figure in Swazi history for his role in resisting British colonialism and helping to maintain Swazi independence. Ngwane III was also instrumental in leading a group of Swazi warriors in the 1893 Battle of Mbwila, which helped to secure Swazi sovereignty over the region.

These key figures, along with many others, have played instrumental roles in shaping Eswatini’s history and culture. Their legacies continue to influence the country’s political and cultural landscape today.


Eswatini, also known as Swaziland, is a landlocked country located in southern Africa. The origins of the Swazi people can be traced back to the 15th century, when they moved southwards from what is now Mozambique.

According to tradition, the Swazi people were ruled by a queen named Dlamini, who was responsible for uniting the various clans and establishing the Swazi nation. The Swazi people were primarily farmers and cattle herders, living in small communities throughout what is now Eswatini.

The arrival of European settlers in southern Africa in the 19th century had a profound impact on the Swazi people. In 1843, the British established a protectorate over what is now Eswatini, and the country became a British colony in 1907. The colonial period saw significant changes to the traditional way of life of the Swazi people, as they were forced to adapt to new economic and political systems.

Despite these changes, the Swazi people have managed to maintain much of their cultural heritage, and Eswatini is known for its vibrant traditional music, dance and dress. In recent years, the government has taken steps to promote and preserve Swazi culture, including the establishment of the Swaziland National Museum in Lobamba, which houses a collection of artefacts and exhibits on Swazi history and culture.

Early Kingdoms

Prior to the arrival of the Swazi people in what is now Eswatini, the region was home to a number of different kingdoms and chiefdoms. Archaeological evidence suggests that the region has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with Stone Age tools and pottery fragments found throughout the country.

Some of the most prominent pre-Swazi kingdoms in the region include the Ndwandwe and Ngwane kingdoms, which were located in what is now central Eswatini. The Ndwandwe kingdom was known for its military prowess, and at its height, it controlled much of what is now southern Africa. The Ngwane kingdom was established in the early 18th century and was later absorbed by the Swazi nation.

The Reign of Sobhuza I

Sobhuza I, also known as Somhlolo, is considered the founding father of the Swazi nation. He was born in 1780 and became king at the age of 22 after his father was killed in battle.

During his reign, Sobhuza I worked to unite the various Swazi clans and establish a strong central government. He also established the traditional system of governance that is still in place in Eswatini today, which includes a dual system of rule by the king and his advisors.

Sobhuza I was known for his diplomatic skills, and he formed alliances with neighboring tribes to secure the Swazi nation’s borders. He also resisted British attempts to colonize the region, although he did allow British traders to establish a presence in what is now Eswatini.

Sobhuza I died in 1839, and his legacy as a unifier and visionary leader lives on in the Swazi nation’s mythology and history.

The Arrival of the British

In the late 19th century, European powers began to carve up Africa, and the region that is now Eswatini came under British control. In 1894, the British declared a protectorate over what is now Eswatini, and the country became a British colony in 1907.

The colonial period saw significant changes to the traditional way of life of the Swazi people. The British imposed new economic and political systems, including a cash-based economy and Western-style government. They also introduced Christianity to the region, which had a profound impact on Swazi culture and religion.

Despite these changes, the Swazi people maintained much of their traditional way of life, and the Swazi monarchy continued to play an important role in the country’s governance. Over time, the Swazi people began to resist British rule, and in 1968, Eswatini gained independence from Britain.


Since gaining independence, Eswatini has faced a number of challenges, including political instability, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Political power in Eswatini is concentrated in the hands of the king, who wields significant authority over the country’s government and institutions. This has led to criticism that the country’s ruling elite is out of touch with the needs and concerns of ordinary Swazi people.

Despite these challenges, the Swazi people remain resilient, and Eswatini is known for its vibrant cultural heritage and strong sense of national identity. The government has implemented a number of programs to promote economic development and improve healthcare for its citizens, but much work remains to be done to ensure that all Swazi people have access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.

Social, Cultural, and Political Context of Eswatini History

Eswatini, also known as Swaziland until 2018, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. Its history is largely shaped by its social, cultural, and political context. This article explores Eswatini’s social, cultural, and political context from various historical periods.

Pre-colonial Era

Before the arrival of Europeans in the late 19th century, Eswatini was a decentralized society ruled by chiefs. The people of Eswatini were divided into clans, which were headed by a hereditary chief. These chiefs were responsible for maintaining law and order, settling disputes, and representing their clan at district level meetings. The Swazi people placed a great emphasis on oral tradition, and it was the chiefs who preserved the historical and cultural values of the society through storytelling.

The Swazi people had a complex social hierarchy, with the royals at the top. The king, who was considered a religious leader, was the ultimate authority and had the power to make laws, levy taxes, and declare war. The king was supported by a council of senior chiefs and was responsible for maintaining peace and order in the kingdom.

Religion played an important role in Swazi society. The people believed in a supreme being called Mvelinqangi who was believed to have created the world. Ancestors were also venerated, and the Swazi people believed that they could communicate with the spirits through rituals and ceremonies.

Colonial Era

Eswatini was colonized by the British in the late 19th century. The colonial period saw significant changes in Eswatini’s social, cultural, and political context. The British introduced a centralized system of governance, which replaced the traditional system of rule by chiefs. The Swazi king was made a British protectorate and was given limited powers to govern his people.

The British also introduced Christianity to Eswatini, which gradually replaced traditional beliefs. Missionaries built schools and hospitals, and the education system became a crucial tool for social and cultural transformation.

The colonial period also saw the arrival of Indian and European immigrants, who introduced new ideas and cultures to Eswatini. The Indian community became an influential economic force in the country, while Europeans introduced new political ideas that challenged the traditional political system.

Post-colonial Era

Eswatini gained independence from British rule in 1968, but the country’s political context remained largely unchanged. The king remained the ultimate authority, and political parties were banned. The country was ruled by a council of ministers appointed by the king, and there was no separation of powers between the different branches of government.

The post-colonial period saw significant socioeconomic changes, with the government prioritizing development and modernization. The country’s economy grew rapidly, with industries such as manufacturing and tourism becoming major contributors to GDP.

However, the political context remained unstable, with the government facing criticism from various quarters for its lack of democracy and human rights abuses. In recent years, there have been calls for greater political freedom and the establishment of a multiparty democracy.

Current Social and Political Context

Today, Eswatini remains a monarchy, with King Mswati III as the ultimate authority. Political parties are still banned, but there is a growing civil society movement advocating for political reforms. The country’s economy has also been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the need for greater economic diversification and resilience.

In recent years, there have been protests and demonstrations against the government’s autocratic rule, with calls for greater democracy and respect for human rights. However, the government has responded with harsh crackdowns on dissent and limited freedom of expression.

Despite these challenges, Eswatini’s social, cultural, and political context remains rich and diverse. The country’s traditional culture, including the Umhlanga (Reed Dance) and Incwala (Kingship) ceremonies, continue to be celebrated, while modern art, music, and literature reflect the country’s changing values and beliefs.

Impact and significance

Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, has a rich history that spans over several centuries. The country’s early history is shrouded in mystery and legend, with stories of powerful rulers and ancient kingdoms that have been passed down through the generations. Over time, the country has been shaped by a variety of factors, including the arrival of European colonizers, the influence of missionaries and traders, and the struggles of its people for independence and self-determination.

The impact and significance of Eswatini’s history can be seen in a variety of ways, including its culture, politics, and economy. Here are some of the key topics that highlight the impact and significance of Eswatini’s history:

Colonization and independence

Eswatini was first colonized by the British in the late 19th century, as part of their efforts to expand their empire into southern Africa. The country remained under British control for more than 60 years, during which time it was widely regarded as a “protectorate” rather than a full-fledged colony. This meant that the British had a great deal of control over the country’s affairs, but were also responsible for providing for the welfare of its people.

In the mid-20th century, a wave of anti-colonial sentiment began to sweep across Africa, and many countries began to push for independence. Eswatini was no exception, and in 1968 it declared its independence from Britain. However, the country’s new rulers quickly found that the transition to independence was not as smooth as they had hoped. Political and social tensions flared up, and the country was plagued by a variety of problems, including poverty, unemployment, and corruption.

Culture and traditions

Eswatini has a rich and diverse culture that is deeply rooted in its history and traditions. One of the most important aspects of the country’s culture is its monarchy, which has played a central role in the country’s governance for centuries. The king, or “Ngwenyama,” is considered to be the ultimate authority in the country, and is highly respected by the people.

Another important aspect of Eswatini’s culture is its music and dance. Traditional Swazi music is characterized by its use of drums and other percussion instruments, as well as its complex rhythms and harmonies. Traditional dances are also an important part of Swazi culture, and are often performed at weddings, funerals, and other important events.

Religion and spirituality

Religion has played a significant role in Eswatini’s history, with Christianity and traditional African beliefs both playing important roles in the country’s spiritual life. Missionaries began arriving in the country in the 19th century, and over time, Christianity became the dominant religion in many parts of the country. Today, the country is roughly split between Christians and those who follow traditional African beliefs.

Traditional African beliefs are based on the idea of ancestors, who are seen as important spiritual figures that can provide guidance and wisdom to the living. Many Swazis believe that their ancestors are still present in their lives, and they often perform ceremonies and rituals to honor and communicate with them.

Economy and development

Eswatini’s economy has undergone significant changes over the past century, as the country has shifted from a largely agricultural society to a more industrialized one. During the colonial period, the country’s primary exports were agricultural products, including sugar and tobacco. Today, the country’s economy is more diversified, with mining, manufacturing, and services all playing important roles.

Despite its progress, however, Eswatini remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with high levels of poverty and unemployment. The country’s government has launched a number of initiatives aimed at promoting development and economic growth, including efforts to attract foreign investment and support small businesses.

Challenges and opportunities

Like many countries in Africa, Eswatini faces a number of challenges as it seeks to build a better future for its people. These challenges include high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, as well as political instability and corruption. At the same time, however, the country also has a number of opportunities, including its rich cultural heritage, its diverse economy, and its growing connections to the global community.

In order to navigate these challenges and seize these opportunities, Eswatini will need to continue to draw on its history and traditions, while also embracing new ideas and approaches. By doing so, the country can build a brighter and more prosperous future for its people.


The origins of the Swazi or Ngwane people, who later became known as the Eswatini people are said to have originated in East Africa, near modern-day Tanzania and Kenya. The Swazi language is part of the Bantu linguistic family which suggests that the Swazi ancestors originated from the same region as other Bantu speaking groups.

The Eswatini people migrated southwards, through modern-day Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, before settling in present-day Eswatini by the early 18th century. Oral traditions suggest that the Eswatini people migrated under the leadership of Matalatala, a chief who led them to the area now known as Eswatini.

It is said that the Eswatini people faced numerous challenges during their migration, including droughts, conflict with other groups, and disease. Nevertheless, they persevered and eventually established a kingdom in the southern part of modern-day Eswatini, with the first king being Sobhuza I who reigned from 1780 to 1815.

During Sobhuza I’s reign, the kingdom was relatively small, with limited resources and a small population of less than 10,000 people. However, Sobhuza I was able to establish a stable government and implement a system of land allocation that enabled the kingdom to expand over time.

The Swazi kingdom continued to grow under the leadership of Sobhuza II who reigned from 1921 to 1982. Sobhuza II was able to resist colonial rule and maintain the independence of Eswatini, which was no small feat given the turbulence of the 20th century.

In the early 1960s, colonial powers began to relinquish their control over their African colonies, and Eswatini became independent in September 1968. Sobhuza II became the first king of independent Eswatini and remained in power until his death in 1982, making him the longest-reigning monarch in history.

After Sobhuza’s death, his son, King Mswati III, took the throne, and he remains in power to this day. Under Mswati III’s leadership, Eswatini has continued to evolve and modernize, while still maintaining its rich cultural heritage and unique identity.

Pre-colonial Era

During the pre-colonial era, Eswatini was ruled by a monarchy or kingship. The first king of Eswatini was Sobhuza I who established the kingdom in the early 18th century. Sobhuza I implemented a system of land allocation that enabled the kingdom to expand over time. He also established a stable government that was able to withstand various challenges including droughts, conflicts with neighboring groups, and disease.

During his reign, Sobhuza I had to contend with European slave traders and ivory hunters who raided the coastal regions of Mozambique for slaves and elephant tusks. He was also able to resist the Zulu Empire’s attempts to conquer his kingdom. The queen mother, Ndlovukati, played an important role in the governance of the kingdom.

Sobhuza II succeeded his father in 1921 and continued to rule the kingdom until his death in 1982. During his reign, Eswatini went through significant transformations including the introduction of Western education, the establishment of the national reserve force, Swaziland Defence Force, and the construction of major infrastructure such as roads and hospitals. Sobhuza II also played a significant role in the decolonization of Africa by resisting attempts by colonial powers to annex Eswatini.

Colonial Era

In the late 19th century, Eswatini was recognized as a protectorate of the British Empire, although the kingdom retained its independence under the rule of the monarchy. Eswatini became a British High Commission Territory in 1907.

During the colonial era, Eswatini experienced significant changes such as the introduction of Western education and Christianity. The first Swazi Christians converted to Christianity in 1850 under the influence of European missionaries. Over time, Christianity became a dominant religion in Eswatini, although traditional beliefs such as ancestral worship continued to be practiced.

The colonizers also introduced cash crop agriculture, such as tobacco and sugar cane, which marked a significant change for the people of Eswatini who had traditionally been subsistence farmers. The introduction of commercial agriculture led to the establishment of tenant farming, where Swazi farmers leased land from white landowners and grew cash crops.

The colonial era also saw the forced removal of Swazi communities from their ancestral lands to make way for the White settlers. Many Swazi people were forced to work in mines in South Africa, and the labor migration led to the fragmentation of Swazi families.

Independence era

Eswatini became independent in 1968, and Sobhuza II became the first king of independent Eswatini. The country was renamed the Kingdom of Eswatini in April 2018, by King Mswati III after a long public debate regarding the significance of the name.

During the early years of independence, Eswatini struggled to develop, with the country relying heavily on foreign aid. However, the government of Eswatini implemented various policies to encourage economic growth, including the privatization of state-owned enterprises, the establishment of free trade zones, and the promotion of foreign investment.

The government also invested in education and healthcare, which led to significant improvements in literacy rates and life expectancy. However, despite these advancements, Eswatini continued to face challenges such as high levels of poverty, HIV/AIDS, and political repression.

In recent years, the government of Eswatini has faced increased criticism from human rights groups who accuse the government of human rights violations and suppressing political opposition. King Mswati III is also criticized for his lavish lifestyle, which is in stark contrast to the poverty that many Swazi people live in.

Despite these challenges, Eswatini remains a unique country with a rich cultural heritage that is celebrated through events such as the Reed Dance and Incwala ceremony.

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