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The History of Swaziland

One of the only remaining absolute monarchies in the world, the landlocked Southern African nation of Swaziland is a unique country which persists with dictatorial rule despite democratic changes in its closest neighbours. Swaziland is bordered by Mozambique to the East and South Africa to the West and it is to the latter that it looks for most of its economic investment. Like the landlocked nation ofLesotho, Swaziland is almost entirely dependent on South Africa economically. Despite the economic assistance of its neighbour, Swaziland is largely impoverished and has also been particularly afflicted by Aids which affects approximately 26 per cent of the population.

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The area now known as Swaziland has been inhabited since pre-historic times and evidence of this is still evident in the kingdom, particularly in the still extant cave art. Swaziland was colonised by the British for much of the 19th century as a part of the colonisation of South Africa. It was granted independence in 1963 and democratic reforms were put into place. However these were scrapped by the ruling monarch. The current King of Swaziland is Mswati III, who has put repressive measures in place to curb people’s freedom of speech, as well as banning any public criticism of his own rule.

The culture of Swaziland is deeply traditional, largely due to the economic and political isolation of the country, but several prominent writers have emerged from this hermetic kingdom. The most celebrated of these is Sarah Mkhonza, who published work critical of the monarchy and as a result was forced to flee the country. She has now settled in the United States, and continues to campaign for reform in Swaziland. Her most celebrated works areWeeding the Flowerbeds, What the Future Holds, Pains of a Maid. Philip Bonner’s book Kings, Commoners and Concessionaires analyses the development of the Swazi state in the 19th century. The film Wah-Wah depicts the upheavals of the expat community in Swaziland during the years before independence.

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