The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.
Eswatini: Ruggedly beautiful, but sweet as sugar
The Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly the Kingdom of Swaziland, is a landlocked country located in the eastern flank of South Africa, where it adjoins Mozambique. It extends about 110 miles from north to south and about 80 miles from west to east at its largest dimensions.
Eswatini’s administrative center is Mbabane,. The national capital is the seat of King Mswati III and his mother, some 11 miles from Mbabane, at Phondvo in the vicinity of Lobamba, where the houses of parliament and other national institutions are situated. In April 2018 the king announced that he was changing the official name of the country from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini.
A long and complex geologic history has created a landscape with a surprising variety of relief, climate, and soils for such a small country. There are four well-defined physiographic regions, extending longitudinally from north to south in roughly parallel belts. From west to east they are the Highveld, the Middleveld, the Lowveld, and the Lubombo escarpment. Geologically, the oldest formations are in the west, and the youngest are in the east.
The Highveld, covering about 30 percent of the country, is a complex of granites and more ancient metamorphosed quartzites, sandstones, and volcanics that has been eroded into a rugged montane environment. The highest elevations are the summits of Mt. Bulembu. 6,108 feet; and Mt. Ngwenya, 5,997 feet in the extreme west. Known to the Swazi as Inkangala (a cold, treeless place), the Highveld was the last part of the country to be settled. Its deeper-weathered red to yellow acid soils have developed on the gentler gradients and in river valleys.
The Middleveld occupies about one-fourth of the country and has an average altitude of 2,000 to 2,500 feet. It is a region of rolling uplands and wide, well-watered valleys. It is mainly underlain by ancient granites and gneisses (metamorphosed granites), with dolerites and quartzites, which have weathered deeply to produce friable red and clay loams interspersed with shallower profiles of sands and sandy loams. To the Swazi it is known as Live (“The Country”) or Inkabave (“The Navel”) and is the heartland of the Swazi nation.
The Lowveld, or Bushveld, covering nearly 40 percent of the country, is a generally undulating lowland with isolated knolls and ridges rising abruptly above the general level of 500 to 1,000 feet. In general, the soils reflect the transition from the acidic granites and sandstones of the western Lowveld to the more basic basalts and dolerites of the eastern part—i.e., from sandy loams in the west to red and black clays in the east, the latter being some of the most naturally fertile soils in the country. This region is called Lihlanze by the Swazi, meaning a warm place with trees—in its undisturbed state, the typical African savanna.
The Lubombo escarpment and plateau covers about five percent of the country, consisting of a narrow strip of about 600 square miles. It rises abruptly from the Lowveld to an average altitude of 2,000 feet, with higher peaks (Mt. Siteki and Mt. Mananga) at about 2,500 feet in the north. It is deeply dissected by the gorges of three of the main rivers that traverse the country from west to east—the Umbuluzi, the Usutu, and the Ingwavuma. The plateau soils vary considerably, from shallow sands to deeper loams, depending on the composition of the volcanic lavas that form the bedrock. The Swazi have no specific name for this part of the country.
Mbabane, capital and largest town of Eswatini, is located in the Highveld of the western portion of the nation. Mba- bane is one of the two cap- itals, serving as the executive capital. With an estimated population of 94,874, it is loc- ated on the Mbabane River and its tributary the Polin-
jane River in the Mdzimba Mountains. It is located in the
Hhohho Region. Mbabane was developed near the cattle kraal of the Swazi King Mban- dzeni in the late 19th century. The town traces its foundation to 1902, when the British took control of then Swaziland and established an administrative headquarters there. A railway linking Mbabane to Mozam- bique was built in 1964, to export iron ore. Accommoda-tions like the Hilton welcomes a growing tourist market.
Eswatini is a gentle balance
of business and government, human resources, agriculture, nature, and wildlife. The nation has a veritable sweet touch in the growth and processing of sugar. Eswatini is a major sugar producer on the con- tinent. Sugar is the country's main export commo- dity, and Eswatini is the fourth largest sugar producer in Africa and the 25th largest producer in the world. Sugar production accounts for more than half of Eswatini's agricultural output and contributes roughly $285 million to the country's gross domestic product. The indus- try employs more than 20,000 workers. Sugar production is expected to increase propor- tionate with steady rainfall, increased irrigation, and improvements in cane yields.
Post forecasts that sugar produc- tion will increase to 720,000 metric tons in 2021-22 is based on an increase in sugar cane delivered to the sugar mills, better quality (sucrose content) of sugar cane, and improved sugar mill efficiencies or sugar recovery rate. The US is one of Eswatini's biggest importers of sugar, not only for food, but for the production of ethanol fuel as well.
Eswatini's charming people, the natural beauty and serenity of her environs is the balance that solidifies the nation as a hot destination for increasing numbers of tourists each year. As one of the few remaining monarchies in Africa, culture and heritage are deeply engrained in all aspects of Swazi life, as well as the rich culture of the people.
Add to that stunning scenery
of mountains and valleys, forests and plains, and abundant wildlife reserves ensuring a uniquely special experience for all who visit.
Ocean. The rivers are the Lomati, Komati, Umbuluzi, and Usutu. The Usutu River has the largest catchment in the country, with three main tributaries, the Usushwana, the Ngwempisi, and the Mkhondvo. In the south the Ingwavuma rises in western Eswatini and also cuts through the Lubombo.
The climate is in general subtropical, but it is strongly influenced by the country’s position on the eastern side of southern Africa, which exposes it to moist maritime tropical air coming off the Indian Ocean for much of the year. The cessation of maritime airflow in winter months because of intensified continental winds produces a high degree of climatic variability. The climate is also subject to steep temperature and precipitation gradients from west to east because of the fall in altitude of about 4,000 feet over a distance of about 50 miles. Average maximum and minimum monthly temperatures are 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 52 degrees in the Highveld and 84 degrees and 59 degrees in the Lowveld. The Middleveld occupies an intermediate position in these gradations.
Eswatini falls within the summer rainfall region of the subcontinent, where about 80 percent of the precipitation falls during the summer months of October to March, usually in the form of thunderstorms and frontal rains. Average annual rainfall in the Highveld is about 55 inches; in the Middleveld, 34 inches; the Lowveld, 22 inches; and the Lubombo, 35 inches. However, variability in the annual totals is great, and figures have fluctuated dramatically from year to year. In the Middleveld, where the bulk of the population lives, the average has varied from a high of 63 inches to a low of 13 inches within a period of a few years. These extreme fluctuations appear to relate to wetter and drier than average quasi-cyclic fluctuations of from 8 to 11 years, which have been identified in the rainfall records.
Flora and wildlife
The natural vegetation includes forest—confined mostly to the Highveld and the windward slopes of the Lubombo escarpment—savanna, and grassland. Factors such as soil composition and moisture produce a variety of vegetation subtypes. There are both wet and dry forests, various densities of savanna, and several grassland types, which range from sweet to sour based on their palatability when mature and dry. Altogether it is a rich flora, with ferns and flowering plants alone accounting for more than 2,600 species. Some have a very limited distribution and are found only in or around Eswatini.
The natural fauna has been severely depleted in recent years because of habitat destruction caused by the spread of the human population, and representative species such as antelope (impala, reedbuck, duiker, waterbuck, wildebeest, and kudu), hippopotamus, rhinoceros, elephant, giraffe, and zebra are found largely in protected reserves. However, smaller mammals—such as the baboon, monkey, jackal, and mongoose—may still be encountered, and several types of snake have a wide distribution. Crocodiles are also common in Lowveld rivers. Birdlife is abundant in each habitat and comprises both resident and migrant (breeding and nonbreeding) populations. The migrants come from central and North Africa and from farther afield (northern Europe and eastern Asia in the case of storks, swallows, and hawks). Distinctive among the more common birds are barbets, weavers, the various hornbills, the lilac-breasted roller, and the purple-crested loerie.
The Swazi nation is an amalgamation of more than 70 clans. Their chiefs form the traditional hierarchy under the ngwenyama and ndlovukazi, who are of the largest clan, the Dlamini. The amalgamation brought together clans already living in the area that is now Eswatini, many of whom were of Sotho origin, and clans of Nguni origin who entered the country with the Dlamini in the early 19th century. Traditional administration and culture are regulated by an uncodified Swazi Law and Custom, which is recognized both constitutionally and judicially. The language is siSwati, which is akin to Zulu, though it shares official status with English, which is in fact used generally for official written communication. The Swazis constitute more than four-fifths of the population, the remainder being immigrants from Mozambique, South Africa, and the rest of the world. Included among these are a few thousand Europeans and Asians and their families engaged in business activities.
The majority of Swazis belong to Christian churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, whose missions were responsible before independence for much of the education and health services, particularly in the rural areas. However, many adherents also retain the traditional beliefs and practices of the rest of the population.
Traditionally, the Swazi lived in family homesteads (imithi) dispersed throughout the countryside. The only larger settlements were the homesteads of royalty and chiefs. This pattern has been modified since the late 19th century by the exposure of the rural Swazi to the money economy. Nucleated settlements grew up at important adminis- trative and trading centres under British colonial rule from 1903, but the process of urbanization accelerated only after World War II, when the establishment of major agricultural, mining, and industrial operations acted as mag- nets for job seekers and created sizable company towns such as Mhlume, Simunye, Big Bend, and Mhiamban- yatsi. The largest are the administrative capital of Mbabane and the commercial and industrial center of Manzini. More than one-fifth of the population is urban.
The rural population lives within a communal land tenure system administered by the traditional chiefs. A typical homestead includes the main hut of the headman (umnumzane); the huts of his mother, wife (or wives), and children; the kitchen and storerooms; and the cattle enclosure (isibaya) in front and facing east. Cattle are more than draft animals and a source of milk. They constitute a store of wealth for use on social and ceremonial occasions (e.g., lobola, or bride-price). The traditional pattern of homestead life is strictly seasonal. With the onset of the rains in spring (August or September), women plant gardens along the riverbanks; later, when the heavy rains come in summer (October to February), with help from the men, they plow or hoe to sow corn (maize) and sorghum (a millet) in larger fields. At this time all able women and children abandon their homesteads for the fields, and the men also join in the planting and weeding.
The summer months are, on the whole, the hungry months, unless supplemented by remittances from working members of the family. Autumn to early winter (March to May) is the harvest; by July the last of the corn and sorghum has been dried and brought in. Activity then moves to the homesteads, where women and men thresh the grain, the best of which is stored and the remainder consumed at once.
Winter is a time for relaxation, hunting, entertaining, and visiting. To some extent this traditional round has been disrupted by population pressure on land, by increased drift to the towns, by the absence of men working in the cities, and by the use of hired tractors for plowing, but the basic pattern is still recognizable. The traditional centers of Swazi life are the royal villages of the ngwenyama (the king) at Ludzidzini and of the ndlovukazi (the queen mother) at Phondvo, both of which are in the “royal heart” of the country and not far from the old royal capital of Lobamba.
Eswatini has a very young population, with more than one-third under the age of 15 and almost another one-third between 15 and 29 years of age. Life expectancy is higher for women than for men, and the average for both is about 57 years, which is much lower than the global average. Eswatini’s population growth rate is slightly lower than the world average, while the country’s birth and death rates are both higher than the world average. The lower life expectancy and population growth rate and the higher than average death rate are in part due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the adult population.
Overall, the economy displays a marked duality of large-scale intensive production and small-scale semi-subsistence activities. This produces a great contrast in incomes and living standards, which tends to be obscured by average per capita statistics. National economic policy is based on the free enterprise or market philosophy, with fiscal measures to redistribute resources to education, health, and community improvement projects. Gov- ernment revenue is derived principally from receipts from the Southern African Customs Union, sales tax, and corporate and personal taxation.
The budget is generally in balance, but foreign aid is a major contributor to the capital or development budget, providing a buffer to help meet any deficit in revenue. Nevertheless, the dual economy persists, and the formal employment sector is unable to absorb the annual increment of new workers generated by the country’s high population growth rate. Many workers, mostly men, are forced to seek employment as migrant workers, predominantly in South Africa. Labor relations in the country are at an embryonic stage, with a generally fragmented trade union movement pitted against a longer-established employers’ association and with the government endeavoring to act as referee and arbiter.
A mixture of subsistence and commercial farming is practiced in Eswatini. The staple crop is corn, and other crops include sorghum (mainly for the brewing of traditional beer), pumpkins, beans, peas, and other vegetables. Crop yields are generally low, but the more progressive farmers produce on a par with the large-scale commercial sector. Because of the role of cattle as a traditional store of wealth, the livestock population, mostly cattle and goats, greatly exceeds the country’s carrying capacity and is a major cause of vegetation loss and soil erosion.
The largest agro-industry is the cultivation of sugarcane and the manufacture of sugar. Also of major commercial importance are the extensive man-made forests of pine and eucalyptus (in the Highveld), which supply timber to a wood pulp mill and several sawmills. Unbleached wood pulp is the country’s second largest export after sugar. The area under timber plantations is about six percent of the country’s total area. Other important crops are citrus fruits and cotton, pineapples, rice, tobacco, and vegetables. Commercial livestock farming is also important, particularly in the Lowveld, and supports meat processing and dairy plants.
Mining has declined in relative importance since the 1960s, asbestos and coal in particular. Iron ore, tin, and gold have been exploited sporadically in the past, but no mines are now active. Since 1984 diamonds have been growing in importance and are now the second largest mineral export after asbestos.
The processing of agricultural, forest, and livestock products forms the backbone of the industrial sector. Other manufactures include textiles and clothing, which expanded enormously in the 1980s, beverages, office equipment, furniture, and various other light industries.
Tourism, particularly from South Africa, has become a major sector of the economy. Centered on the hotel and casino complex in the central Ezulwini valley (about seven miles from Mbabane), the sector boasts smaller complexes at Piggs Peak in the north and at Nhlangano in the south. High-quality handmade textiles and tapestries and a range of stone and wooden handicrafts complement this sector.
Finance and trade
Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa constitute the Southern African Customs Union, which provides generally for the free movement of goods and services throughout the area. Eswatini has its own currency, the lilangeni, but is also a member of the southern African monetary union (with Lesotho and South Africa), which seeks to ensure that currencies are on par and funds move freely between the member countries. Apart from one bank that is wholly owned by the government, the commercial banks are subsidiaries of inter- national (including South African) banks. As a consequence of these associations, most international trade is with South Africa as part of its regional trading network. Exports are largely raw materials or lightly processed prod- ucts, essentially from the agri-forestry sector, while imports consist of machinery and transport equipment, fuels and lubricants, and foodstuffs.
Good all-weather roads link the main population centers and extend to neighboring South Africa and Mozambique. The railway, originally constructed from the western to the eastern border for the export of iron ore through Maputo in Mozambique, has been extended to provide links to the South African network in both the north and the south of the country. Eswatini has one international airport, named after King Mswati III.
Executive authority is vested in the king and is exercised through a dual system of government. The king appoints a prime minister and a cabinet of ministers to advise him on government matters. In addition, there is the Swazi National Council, which advises the king on all matters regulated by Swazi Law and Custom and connected with Swazi traditions and culture. Eswatini’s legislature is bicameral. The House of Assembly comprises 65 members, of whom 55 are elected by popular vote and 10 are appointed by the king. The House of Assembly may sometimes have an additional member if the speaker of the House is chosen from outside that body. The Senate has 30 members, of whom 10 are elected by the House of Assembly and 20 are appointed by the king.
The general electorate consists of all citizens over the age of 18 grouped into 55 constituencies (tinkhundla). Each tinkhundla elects one member to the House of Assembly; elections are held at intervals of no more than five years. Political parties are banned, but, nonetheless, several are active in the country.
Eswatini’s judicial system is dualistic, with both constitutional and traditional courts. The constitutional courts comprise the Court of Appeal, the High Court, subordinate or magistrate’s courts, and an industrial court. There are also traditional Swazi National Courts, including two courts of appeal and a higher appeal court. The Swazi National Courts hear only cases in which all those involved are Swazi and the charges fall within a restricted list of criminal and civil matters. They must defer to the constitutional courts in case of conflict between the two systems.
Local government is administered on a regional level. An administrator appointed by the king heads each of the country’s four regions (Hhohho, Lubombo, Manzini, and Shiselweni). Land ownership is one of the most sensitive issues in national life. Traditionally, all land is vested in the king in trust for the nation and allocated as communal land by the chiefs. In the late 19th century, however, much of the territory was alienated as land concessions to foreigners—as owners according to them but as lessees according to the Swazi.
Schooling was introduced as a part of missionary activity in pre-colonial times, and missionaries continue to influence the education system. The Swazi nation itself set up schools as early as 1906, and a number of chiefs established what were known as “tribal” schools. However, it was only after independence that the coverage of primary and secondary schools began to increase dramatically and to enable more than 80 percent of the school-age population to attend full-time. As a result, illiteracy is declining steadily. State education is not free, and school fees constitute a major financial commitment for parents. There are also teacher-training and vocational and industrial training centers, as well as a university.
Health and welfare
The initial stimulus for health services came from church missions and from industrial establishments catering to large numbers of employees and their dependents. They established both hospitals and rural clinics. There are also private medical practitioners in all the larger urban centers. Chief causes of illness are intestinal infections, tuberculosis, food deficiencies, and respiratory diseases. After its virtual elimination in the 1950s, malaria has again become a major disease, especially in the Lowveld, where there has been a large influx of infected immigrant labor from Mozambique. By 2000 Eswatini was suffering from one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, with nearly one-fourth of the population afflicted.
Despite the changes wrought by the money economy, by a high degree of literacy and basic education, and by steadily improving living standards and changing life-styles, tradition continues to play an important role in Swazi society, both at the national ceremonial level and in day-to-day personal contacts. This reflects the unity of the Swazi as one nation under a traditional leader and especially their reverence for the struggle of King Sobhuza II over the 61 years of his reign to regain their independence.
The two main cultural events are the Incwala in December and the Umhlanga in August. The Incwala is sometimes described as a first-fruits ceremony, but, spread over six days, it is a much more complex ritual of renewing and strengthening the kingship and the nation, with songs and dances used only on this occasion. The Umhlanga, or Reed Dance, brings together the unmarried girls and young women of the country to cut reeds for the annual repairs to the windbreaks of the queen mother’s village; it lasts for five days. It is also symbolic of the unity of the nation and of its perpetuation through the massed ranks of young women. Both ceremonies are held at the national capital of the queen mother.
Other ceremonies are associated with the communal weeding and harvesting of the king’s fields (and those of the chiefs) and with customary marriages. Most ceremonies are accompanied by traditional music, songs, and danc- ing. Musical instruments are simple in design, a kudu horn (impalampala) used for hunting or herding cattle, a calabash attached to a bow (umakweyane) for love songs, the reed flute, played by small boys while herding, and rattles made of seedpods attached to the wrists and ankles. However, more typical of the homestead nowadays are the radio and record and tape players.
Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License