Swaziland, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, is one of the the smallest countries in Africa and has a well-earned reputation for friendliness in Southern Africa. It also contains several large game parks and reserves, which are sponsored by the government and are popular tourist destinations.
Compared to other countries in the region, Swaziland is known for its civility and peacefulness, despite similar problems with poverty and one of the world's worst AIDS crises. As of November 2008 the total reported percentage of those with HIV was listed as 30%; this, of course, does not include those who have not yet been tested. The AIDS epidemic has broken up the traditional extended family unit, leaving many young children orphaned and fighting for survival.
Swaziland is divided into four adminstrative districts: Hhohho (northwest), Lubombo (east), Manzini (central-west), and Shiselweni (south).
Rumors abound that much of Swaziland's economy is based on the farming of marijuana, or dagga, as it is locally known.
Artifacts indicating human activity dating back to the early Stone Age 200,000 years ago have been found in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Prehistoric rock art paintings date from ca. 25,000 B.C. The earliest inhabitants of the area were Khoisan hunter-gatherers. They were largely replaced by the Bantu tribes during Bantu migrations who hailed from the Great Lakes regions of Eastern Africa.
The autonomy of the Swaziland Nation was dictated by British rule of southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1881 the British government signed a convention recognizing Swazi independence. At the start of the Anglo Boer war, Britain placed Swaziland under its direct jurisdiction as a Protectorate. The Swaziland independence Constitution was promulgated by Britain in November 1963 in terms of which a legislative Council and an Executive Council were established. The first Legislative Council of Swaziland was constituted on 9 September 1964. Changes to the original constitution proposed by the Legislative Council were accepted by Britain and a new Constitution providing for a House of Assembly and Senate was drawn up. Elections under this Constitution were held in 1967. Since 1973, Swaziland has seen a rather quiet struggle between pro-multiparty activists and the monarchy.
Generally speaking, rain falls mostly during the summer months, often in the form of thunderstorms. Winter is the dry season. Annual rainfall is highest on the Highveld in the West, between 1000 and 2000 mm depending on the year. The further East, the less rain, with the Lowveld recording 500 to 900 mm per annum. Variations in temperature are also related to the altitude of the different regions. The Highveld temperature is temperate and, seldom, uncomfortably hot while the Lowveld may record temperatures around 40 degrees in summer.
The only International airport of Swaziland is Matsapha Airport which lies about 1km outside of Manzini. Airlink Swaziland provides flights from Johannesburg (South Africa). There is also a small car rental station at the airport and a snack shop. A hotspot has recently been installed, allowing users with WiFi and Wireless LAN equipped computers or PDA’s to access the internet from anywhere in the building free of charge.
Most public transport bus services arrive in Mbabane or Manzini. Smaller bus lines, or minibuses generally provide service to Johannesburg, Durban or Cape Town in South Africa as well as Maputo in Mozambique.
Larger buses usually travel within the country and some stop at border crossings, where passengers must connect with an onward journey, unless a specific group booking is done to hire a big bus.
For scheduled road transport there is the Swaziland based siyeSwatini TransMagnific , which provides transport to and from Swaziland daily. Stops include the Johannesburg airport. The TransMagnific mini-buses are customised for added comfort and safety, unlike the public transport. However, they require that bookings and payments be done at least a day prior to travel so that your meal can be ordered and the selection for the movie can be determined for the +-4hour voyage.
The South African Baz Bus , an independent line somewhat popular among backpackers, also makes regular stops via South Africa to various hostels and hotels in Swaziland. When traveling into and out of South Africa to and from Swaziland, this is the safest option. All mini-buses into South Africa go directly to Johannesburg bus stations, which are dangerous.
Most travel in Swaziland is by either car or minibus.
Minibuses, called kombis, are prevalent, but can be confusing. Like similar modes of travel around the world such as the jitney, matatu or dolmus, these are small vans that accumulate as many travelers as possible while making their way along a general direction. In Swaziland, these vans are often driven by very young men, and most have assistants who estimate and collect fares, ask your destination, and make change.
As of Jan. 2008, fares typically range from 5R for trips around 5 min to 10R for around 30 min to 30R for longer trips. It is very very unlikely to be over-charged.
Be prepared for crowded seats, loud radios, and sometimes reckless driving. The larger Sprinter vans are a safer and faster choice if available.
Minibuses can usually be flagged down along main roads. Larger towns usually serve as minibus hubs or connections. Major hubs include Manzini, Mbabane, Pigg's Peak, Nhlangano, Siteki, and Big Bend. Finding the correct bus can be tricky, so discreetly ask if you can't figure it out. The kombis typically have destinations written on the front bumpers. At a bus station (or bus rank), young men will yell out the destinations and are helpful in guiding you to the correct kombi, however, always double check with the passengers. You will be advised to watch your belongings, as such places, like all bus terminals worldwide, have disproportionally higher crime rates. Stay away from these bus ranks at night.
Travel is very difficult after dark. The only option is by taxi. If staying around Mbabane or Manzini, keep a couple cab driver's phone numbers on hand. Taxi drivers may overcharge.
English is the official language of business. It is advisable that travellers learn a little of the local language, SiSwati (also known as Swazi) which, in rural areas, is spoken almost exclusively.
The currency of Swaziland, the lilangeni (plural: "emalangeni"), is tied to the South African rand at 1:1. Shops in Swaziland often accept and make change for both currencies indiscriminately. This is not the case in South Africa, however, so if you are planning to visit South Africa also, you may prefer to request rand in exchange for emalangeni at banks in Mbabane or Manzini: proof of identity is required. It is impossible to exchange your emalangeni at Johannesburg Airport, as well as in the UK. All Swazi vendors will take Rand, but no South African vendors will take emalangeni.
Note that when traveling on the kombis in Swaziland, the operators will NOT take Rand coins.
Many Western foods are available in Swazi grocery stores, but traditional foods are still common, as is modern convenient food based on traditional ingredients.
Maize-based dishes are popular, and mealie or pap (similar to porridge) is a staple. Beans, groundnuts, pumpkin, avocado and sour milk are also common ingredients. Dried and cooked local meats, such as antelope (often called 'wild meat' by locals), are widely available at tourist restaurants.
"Chicken dust" is a cheap local bbq meal; basically chicken grilled in the open served with a salad and mealie. It is popular both with locals and absolutely delicious. Of course, take appropriate precautions as it is a street vendor food.
Sweet breads, vegetables and fruits are often available from roadside merchants. If you're craving pasta, imported olive oil, Nestle chocolate, Herbal Essences and Carlsberg, head over to the Hub, at Manzini: a huge Spar with everything you could need (at an appropriately inflated price). There are several coffee-shops and restaurants around the Hub, also: be aware that the lavatories are located separately, down the stairs, and you have to pay to use them. Manzini's bustling markets and local shops yield all kinds of interesting foodstuffs, along with the ubiquitous KFC.
There are some superb restaurants in Swaziland; many are be found in Ezulwini:
Marula is locally brewed during the marula season. It may be difficult to find; ask locals as it is home-brewed.
There is a vibrant nightlife in Swaziland ranging from traditional dances to bars and nightclubs. If you're staying in Ezulwini, there are four bars at the Royal Swazi hotel; why not check out the Why Not nightclub too? If you're in the Malkerns area, the House on Fire is extremely popular: local art, local and national DJs, an open-air setting and live acts.
Swaziland is a small country and it is easy to go anywhere in the country during one day. If you're watching the pennies, head to Veki's Guesthouse or Grifter's Backpackers in Mbabane, which costs around 120R per night for a bunk. If you want to push the boat out, book a room at the Mountain Inn which has outstanding accommodation, facilities and leisure opportunities.
The most sought-after hotels in Swaziland tend to be located in Ezulwini Valley between the two major cities, Mbabane and Manzini. (Don't forget to pick up beautiful local crafts from the roadside stalls on the way.) With four bars, a restaurant, a casino, golf, swimming, tennis and 411 rooms and suites, the Royal Sun Swazi epitomises luxury. The Royal Villas, also found in Ezulwini, spread 56 rooms across 14 villas and are extremely luxurious, offering excellent food, atmosphere and leisure facilities. The Ezulwini sun offers excellent facilities, also, at mid-range prices.
And, if you're heading down towards the Mozambique border, you'll find comfortable, well-appointed country clubs at Manananga, Mhlume and Simunye.
Again, out in the country, a wonderful place to stay one or more nights is Phophonyane Falls . It is situated in the north-east, next to the Phophonyane waterfalls and offers great hiking trails. Best is to sleep in comfortable tents, next to the river. The Shewula Mountain Camp, Swaziland's first community-owned camp, is perched high in the Lobombo mountains with stunning views across game reserves; on clear days the Mozambique capital, Maputo is clearly visible. Guests stay in traditional rondavels, round thatched huts. The Camp is an eco-tourism initiative designed to help the local community and the wider environment.
Swaziland is named for Mswati II, who became king in 1839. The royal lineage can be traced back to the Dlamini clan. The population is divided roughly between Nguni, Sotho and Tsonga, the remainder being 3% white. The current king is Mswati III, son of Sobuza II who had about seventy wives. He rules jointly with Indlovukazi, the Queen Mother. The primary symbol of Swaziland is not what the West would typically associate with nationhood - flags or monuments - but the king himself. The relationship between king and people is demonstrated through the incwala, a ceremony lasting several weeks which focuses on traditional rule, unity of the state, primacy of agriculture, sacredness of land, fertility and potency. Mswati's relationship with his people has been made even more unique through the introduction of chastity decrees for the under-18s to combat the rise of AIDS. However, Mswati III broke the rule when he married a 17-year-old girl, his thirteenth wife, in 2005. Mswati III has come under further criticism for attempting to purchase a private plane during a period of persistent drought and famine. Dissent grew so vociferous that the media was banned from making disparaging remarks about the monarchy, and the plane in particular. In the third year of drought, further plans to build luxury palaces for his wives whilst his people starved led to mass criticism. In 2005, Mswati III signed the country's first constitution though, in effect, nothing has changed: opposition parties remain banned, and the King remains absolute monarch.
Swaziland's main exports are sugar, grown on plantations throughout Swaziland, soft drink concentrates, cotton, maize, tobacco, rice and wood pulp. Demand for asbestos, once a major export, has fallen greatly due to health risks associated with the product. The land is badly overgrazed and overfarmed. This is particularly problematic as Swaziland suffers from persistent droughts. Unemployment hovers at around 25%. This figure is contributed to by inability to work as a result of AIDS.
Swazis build their huts depending on whether they are descended from Nguni or Sotho: Nguni huts are beehive in shape; Sotho huts have window frames and full doorways. Living space is roughly divided into three parts: living accommodation, animal housing and the 'great' hut, reserved for the spirits of the patrilineal ancestors. Each chief's wife has her own hut. Land is owned by local chiefs or the Crown; much land has been bought back for the nation and unclaimed spaces are used for grazing and collection of firewood. There is a growing class system due to the expansion of the middle classes. Social rank can be determined through the individual's relation to the head of their clan or to the royal family. In urban areas, fluency and proficiency in English is the main social delineator.
There are festivals and ceremonies throughout the year, the most notable being the King's Birthday on April 19 which is celebrated with a national 'day off' and local festivities, and the Reed (Umhlanga) Dance, a three day ceremony which takes place around August when thousands of maidens (virgins) congregate from all over Swaziland. The King is permitted to pick a new bride from their number.
Volunteer for a day at Matjana Preschool, a not-for-profit pre-primary school in Kaphunga, Rural Swaziland. For more details and to contact us at Matjana . Matjana Preschool was established by a group of volunteers without any organizational assistance and opened in 2007, the first preschool in the area. Since then with the support of International donors it has grown from strength to strength. In 2007, 19 children attended Matjana Preschool and one local woman was employed as the preschool teacher (working with an Australian volunteer teacher). In 2008 newly purchased furniture has allowed the organization to increase the class size; they now have a class of 22 students and enough funds to pay a second local teacher. They hope to build a new classroom at some point in the future (depending on donations) so that they can accept up to thirty students per year and continue employing two local women.
Swaziland has a much lower crime rate than other countries in the region.
Hippopotami are found (rarely) in the country's rivers, and are one of the more dangerous animals you are likely to come across. They are actually quite fast animals, as well as being extremely strong and with large, powerful jaws. They often stay submerged in shallow water during the day, but come out at night to graze. They can be unpredictable, territorial and very protective of their young. Do not stand between a hippo and the water.
Crocodiles are a more common danger when swimming in rivers.
Swaziland also has one of the highest numbers of people struck by lightning per capita in the whole world and it is common to know (or know of) somebody who has been struck by lightning
Be careful when crossing any of Swaziland's nineteen border gates. It is forbidden to take meat into certain areas, and the soldiers have the right to search both you and your vehicle extensively. It is extremely inadvisable to stray into 'No-Man's Land', a 5km stretch of territory between Mozambique and Swaziland; several locals have been shot by soldiers guarding the edges of the respective territories.
Whilst physical violence is not prevalent (save on weekends when many may imbibe copious quantities of brandy or marula, a highly intoxicating alcoholic beverage), wandering around alone after dark is not advisable, particularly outside Mbabane and Manzini where there is little or no street lighting. Keep your money hidden and, if you are working or travelling in impoverished rural areas, do not eat expensive foods in front of the locals, particularly the children, who, especially if they are AIDS orphans and fed as part of the Sebenta school programme, do not get to experience luxury items.
While Swazi main roads are in good repair, a four wheel drive is essential to see much of the interior, unless you wish to be stranded miles from anywhere, with a patchy telephone signal as mobile telephone masts are few and far between. Other drivers, particularly HGVs, often overtake without warning and without checking for oncoming traffic. 'Kombis', local minibuses which function as taxis, drive at a neck-or-nothing rate with more than a full quota of passengers.
There are risks for bilharzia if you frequent infected streams, as well as seasonal risks for malaria in the North-East parts of Swaziland near Mozambique. Be sure to use mosquito nets and repellent where necessary.
Swazis are very loyal to the King and the Royalty; be smart about what is said openly.
Swaziland is also predominantly Christian, and modesty in dress is encouraged. Married women typically cover their hair.
Swazis adhere strongly to their historical traditions, which are widely practiced today. Many who are suffering from an illness will consult a sangoma to determine its cause and an inyanga to prescribe a treatment. It is the height of disrespect to be disparaging towards these individuals or to refer to them as witch doctors.
Cellphone coverage is similar to South Africa, even in most nature reserves there is coverage (although it might be weak). There is only one wireless operator in Swaziland, namely MTN-Swazi. SIM cards from South Africa do not work here, unless it's MTN and roaming has been enabled. It's easy to buy a starter pack with a MTN-Swazi sim card pretty much at every gas station or grocery store. You do not need proof of residence or ID to get a pack.
Although there is coverage, the phone service itself is bad with many calls not connecting (or connecting to the wrong phone number), SMSes not arriving and international calling being more expensive than in South Africa.
Note that Starter Pack sim cards expire within 30 days if not used, and that they cannot be used in South Africa.