Swaziland: Notes


The national language of the Swazi is siSwati, a language closely related to isiZulu, from which relevant styles are frequently borrowed.

The official languages of Swaziland are siSwati and English. It is noted in Marwick (1940) that siSwati was largely unwritten before independence. All relevant documents have their authentic text promulgated in English.

Names of the Swazi

The Swazi are known by the name emaSwazi or Ebantfu ba kwa Ngwane (isiZulu forms), the latter being the older form and meaning 'the people of Ngwane' - the founder of the nation. Apparently from the reign of Mswazi who was successful in expanding the nation the people came to be known as emaSwazi. The Swazi also refer to their country as kaNgwane rather than eSwatini.

Rulers of the Swazi

In the traditional manner of the Nguni polities, the Swazi Nation is headed by the dual leadership of a male Ngwenyama ("Lion") and of his actual or notional mother, Ndlovukati ("Elephant"); the latter continues to act after the death of the Ngwenyama while a consort of the deceased ruler is selected to be the mother of the next Ngwenyama and to become Ndlovukati upon his coming of age and acceding.

Status of Swaziland (1881-1903)

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the territory of modern Swaziland was inhabited by two communities, the Swazis whose traditional polity might be defined as the Swazi Nation, and white settlers who were either the farmers from the Transvaal or British subjects.

By the Convention of Pretoria (effective 8 Aug 1881), complete self-government was given to the Transvaal subject to the suzerainty of the British crown. The Government of the Transvaal undertook to do its utmost to prevent any of its inhabitants from making any encroachment upon lands beyond the Republic (Art. 19), and Art. 24 provided that "The independence of the Swazis within the boundary line of Swaziland, as indicated in the first Article of this Convention, will be fully recognised." On 5 Sep 1881 a conference was held between the Deputy High Commissioner of the United Kingdom for South Africa, and the Swazi Ngwenyama, at which the portions of the Convention which bore on the interests of Swaziland were read and explained, and it was pointed out that by the Convention the independence of Swaziland was guaranteed.

The provisions of the Convention of Pretoria were superseded by the Convention of London (27 Feb 1884), which inter alia empowered the British government to appoint Commissioners in the native territories outside the Eastern and Western borders of the Transvaal to maintain order and prevent encroachments. The government of the Transvaal undertook to conclude no treaty or engagement with any state or nation other than the Orange Free State, nor with any 20 native tribe to the Eastward or Westward of the Republic until the same had been approved by the government of the United Kingdom. By Article XII of this Convention it was provided that "The independence of the Swazis within the boundary line of Swaziland, as indicated in the First Article of this Convention, will be fully recognised."

On 16 May 1887 a meeting of the white settlers in Swaziland was held at which a Committee was appointed to frame rules for the government of the white inhabitants of the country. A Charter of Rights was granted by the Ngwenyama to this Committee (1 Aug 1888), giving them powers of self-government and legislation for whites. This Committee was dissolved (21 Nov 1889) and in its place a Provisional Government Committee was constituted by a Proclamation of the Ndlovukati (18 Dec 1889). By this Proclamation the Committee were empowered to act for the proper government of the white population, subject to confirmation by the Swazi ruler.

On 24 Jul 1890 a further Convention relative to the affairs of Swaziland was entered into between the United Kingdom and Transvaal. By Art. 1 of this Convention the independence of the Swazis as recognised by the Convention of London was affirmed, and it was provided that no inroad on that independence should be allowed, even with the consent of the Swazi Government, without the consent both of the British Government and of the Government of the Transvaal. By Art. 2 the powers which had been conferred on the Provisional Government Committee were, with the consent of the Swazi Government which was to be expressed in the form of an Organic Proclamation by the Ndlovukati and Council, continued for an indefinite period subject to certain alterations and additions. By Article 6 the control and management by the Swaziland Government of all affairs in which natives only were concerned were to remain unaffected by the Organic Proclamation and were to be regulated according to native laws and customs.

On 13 Sep 1890 аn Organic Proclamation was purported to be issued by the Ngwenyama-designate (Umntfwana), by which a Government Committee was established to be composed of three Europeans one to be nominated by the Swazi nation, one by the British monarch, and one by the Transvaal, and the provisions contained in the Convention of 24 Jul 1890 were carried into effect. The Government Committee which was thus established continued to exercise its functions until 21 Feb 1895.

The United Kingdom and Transvaal concluded another Convention (1 Nov 1893) in substitution for the Convention of 1890, by which the Government of the Transvaal were empowered to enter into negotiations with the Ndlovukati and Council with a view to obtaining a Convention or an Organic Proclamation by which rights and powers of jurisdiction, protection and administration over Swaziland, without incorporation thereof into the Transvaal, should be conferred upon the Government of the Transvaal; provided that just provisions should be made for the protection of the Swazi natives with regard to the management of their own internal affairs according to their own laws and customs, including the laws and customs of inheritance and succession in so far as such laws and customs were not inconsistent with civilized laws and customs or with any law in force in Swaziland made pursuant in such Convention or Organic Proclamation and with regard to their continued use and occupation of land then in their possession and of all grazing or agricultural rights to which they were then entitled.

The Government of the Transvaal did not succeed in inducing the Swazis to enter into any treaty with them, and on 10 Dec 1894 a new Convention was entered into between the British Government and that of the Transvaal in substitution for the Conventions of 1890 and 1893. Art. 2 of this Convention provided that without the incorporation of Swaziland into the Transvaal the Government of the Transvaal should have and be secured in all rights and powers of protection, legislation, jurisdiction and administration over Swaziland and the inhabitants thereof, subject to some conditions.

Swaziland was administered by the Government of the Transvaal under the Convention of 1894 until the outbreak of the South African War in 1899. Since the termination of that war the British Government have exercised by right of conquest of the Transvaal the powers which were vested in the Government of the Transvaal by the Convention of 1894, and a subsequent Protocol of 5 Oct 1898, but no formal declaration of a British protectorate over Swaziland has been made.

On 25 Jun 1903 provision was made by Order in Council (Swaziland Order in Council 1903), by virtue of the powers by the Foreign Jurisdiction Act 1890, or otherwise in His Majesty vested for the administration of Swaziland. The preamble to this Order recited that the Government of the late South African Republic (Transvaal) exercised rights and powers of protection, legislation, jurisdiction and administration over Swaziland, and that all the rights and powers of the Republic with respect to Swaziland had passed to His Majesty by virtue of the conquest and annexation of the South African Republic.

Position of the Swazi Rulers (1895-1967)

During the period when Swaziland was administered first by the Transvaal and then by the United Kingdom, the Ngwenyama and Ndlovukati were considered traditional Swazi officials. Under the provisions of the Convention of 1894 to which the Swazi government was not a party, the future Ngwenyama Ngwane V was recognised as "Paramount Chief of the Swazies in Swazieland, with the usual powers of such Paramount Chief, in so far as the same are not inconsistent with civilized laws and customs." Starting from 1903, Swaziland was governed under the provisions of the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, 1890, in the name of the King (and then Queen) of the United Kingdom.

The status of the Ngwenyama as a native chief of the Swazi tribe and not as a sovereign of Swaziland was asserted in a letter from the High Commissioner for South Africa, dated 19 Dec 1921:

There is one matter which I wish to mention. I notice that the Petition contains numerous references to the Paramount Chief as 'the King of Swaziland'. The word 'King' is not a correct translation of the word 'Nkosi' by which the Paramount Chief is addressed in the Swazi language, and the style 'King of Swaziland' is not one which I should be prepared to recognize. I do not think there could be a more dignified or a more appropriate title for the Chief of the Swazi than 'Paramount Chief'. It is a title which is only accorded to two other chiefs under my jurisdiction, namely the Paramount chiefs of Basutoland and Bechuanaland, neither of which territories is less important than Swaziland. A Native Chief, like an official of the Government gains more dignity by using a title which is appropriate to his position than by using one which people might regard as high-sounding and pretentious. I hope in the future the title "Paramount Chief' will be used instead of the title 'King'.

Source: Kuper (1978), 77.

The sharply limited authority of native rulers was reflected in the Proclamation No. 44 of 27 Oct 1944 "to provide for the recognition of Native Authorities and the definition of their powers and functions". It was issued by the High Commissioner for Basutoland, the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland, who reserved for himself the right to appoint and depose all chiefs, including the Paramount Chief. However, the proclamation "did not entirely rescue the ngwenyama from the limbo into which the European occupation had thrust his office..." [Potholm (1972), 41]

The Proclamation of 1944 was revisited and replaced with the Swaziland Native Administration (Consolidation) Proclamation No. 79 of 1950 which recognised the Paramount Chief as sole authority for issuing a wide variety of legally enforceable orders to be published in the Official Gazette. It also provided that the Paramount Chief might appoint or revoke appointment of chiefs. The Native Courts Proclamation of 1950 enabled the Paramount Chief, with the approval of the Resident Commissioner of Swaziland, to establish a Swazi court structure and system.

The 1966 constitution, formally issued 22 Feb 1967, was the result of a British-Swazi agreement. It recognised the Ngwenyama as King of Swaziland and instituted the kingship, significantly expanding its scope and power.

Last updated on: 03 May 2011 23:29:32