Africa’s last absolute monarchy, the Kingdom of Swaziland, celebrates its independence from Britain on Sept. 6 each year. Much of the population lives in poverty, each on less than $2 a day, and human rights groups say Swaziland’s record is dismal. King Mswati III — one of 600 children — has ruled since 1986, and before him, his father was the world’s longest-reining monarch at the time of his death. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Swaziland Independence and culture.
Sources: Swazi Observer, Lonely Planet, A Global World.com, WorldFlags101.com, Amnesty International
The Swazi people first got caught up in European interference in the late 1800s when both the Boers and Brits tried to lay claim to the kingdom. The 1881 Pretoria Convention defined Swaziland as an “independent nation” with its own borders, but did little to free the people. During this time the British and the Boers both tried to claim various interests in the country and the result was chaos. Following the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer War, however, the Boer administration collapsed and Swaziland became a British protectorate.
King Sobhuza II took over the throne in 1921 and very slowly began steering his monarchy towards total independence from Britain. In World War II, Swazi soldiers fought alongside Allied troops in Italy. In 1960 Sobhuza II proposed a legislative council that was made up of elected European officials. He also started a national council — the Mbokodvo (Grindstone) National Movement — whose aim was to maintain traditional Swazi culture and end racial discrimination.
In 1964 the British finally agreed to allow local elections in Swaziland, and Mbokodvo won the majority of seats. In 1967, when the next round of elections were held, he Mbokodvo National Movement won all the seats.
On Sept. 6, 1968, the British finally granted Sawziland full independence. It also drafted much of the Swaziland constitution. King Sobhuza II threw out the British-drafted constitution in 1973 on the grounds it didn’t accord with traditional culture. He also dissolved all political powers and by 1977 had created a new constitution that granted him absolute power. When he died in 1982, he was the world’s longest-reigning monarch.
Picking a successor from the King’s legions of offspring was no easy feat — he had fathered more than 600 children with 100 different wives. Before a new king could be chosen, Swazi culture dictated a strictly enforced 75-day mourning period during which sex and anything unrelated to the essential commerce of running the nation was banned. Violators were punishable by flogging.
It took four years for a successor to be crowned. In 1986, at age 18, Prince Makhosetive was crowned as King Mswati III. His reign has been as much like a dictatorship as his father’s, with Mswati III maintaining absolute control. As a result, Swaziland has a less-than-stellar human rights record, with international organizations like Amnesty International calling for change.
Swaziland’s flag was established in 1967. Its design inspiration comes from a flag given to the Swazi Pioneer Corps by King Sobhuza II during World War II as troops prepared to invade Italy with other allied forces. The shield is reminiscent of ancient Swazi warriors who would stretch black-and-white ox hides over their wooden shields. Traditional Swazi spears and staff with tassels (known as “tinjobo”) symbolize the monarchy. Blue represents peace, red is battle, and yellow is mineral wealth.
The monarchy recently made headlines after American R&B singer Erykah Badu sang “Happy Birthday” and gave gifts to King Mswati III at his 46th birthday bash in April. Other than signing, Badu gave Africa’s last absolute monarch a $100 bill and a “special stone” which she said would lift his majesty’s spirits when he was feeling down,” the Swazi Observer reported. The act caused a stir in the human rights community, which called out Badu for her behavior.
Independence Day celebrations include an address to the nation from the king, who also dances with his regiments. It is a day filled with cultural ceremonies. Participants dress in traditional costumes armed with shields and “skill” fighting sticks.
Sept. 6 celebrations are held in Somhlolo National Stadium in Lobamba, the royal capital of Swaziland. Besides the king, celebrations include the prime minister and cabinet members. If you don’t live in the capital, there are local celebration across the country, including in the rural areas, that usually include traditional dancing and drumming.
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