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Though human remains date back 110,000 years, the Swazi people only arrived here in the 18th century, after pressure from other clans forced the Dlamini people from Mozambique. Zulu influence redirected them to the Ezulwini Valley, which remains the center of Swazi royalty and rituals today.
While the Zulus crossed swords with the British and the Boers, other misfits came into Swaziland undetected by the preoccupied warrior-tribe. Land-hungry farmers, bounty-hungry hunters, and money-hungry traders all put pressure on the land and its people.
Soon, random leases were being granted to random Europeans. So the British stepped in and wrested control. In the ensuing Swaziland Convention of 1881, “independence” was just a word thrown on paper. With contracted borders, Swaziland gave in to an official British takeover after the Second Boer War at the turn of the 20th century.
Much of the land, however, remained in foreign hands. To get it back, King Labotsibeni encouraged Swazis to buy it back, prompting many locals to move to South Africa, where they worked in diamond mines. By 1968, when Britain officially granted Swaziland independence after 66 years of rule, more than two-thirds of the land had either been bought back or handed back by the British. Some streets in Mbabane still have their colonial-era names—recognition of the people’s gratitude for a peaceful handover.
But Swaziland’s constitution was still British in spirit, so King Sobhuza II suspended it with plans to draft another more suited to Swazi culture. In 1977, a new constitution was presented, giving total power to the king. Sobhuza died in 1982 and was replaced in 1986 by King Mswati after a four-year period of regency.
King Mswati forbids opposition parties. In 1995, this led to student uprisings and strikes. Leaders of Mozambique and South Africa stepped in to try to sway Mswati toward democracy, but to no effect. Since then, the king and Swaziland’s pro-democracy groups have engaged in public debate over policy. For instance, the latter refuse to recognize the Public Order Act, which criminalizes the formation of political parties and requires that public meetings be approved by the police.