Swaziland is named for Mswati II, who became king in 1839. The royal lineage can be traced back to the Dlamini clan. The population is divided roughly between Nguni, Sotho and Tsonga, the remainder being 3% white. The current king is Mswati III, son of Sobuza II who had about seventy wives. He rules jointly with Indlovukazi, the Queen Mother. The primary symbol of Swaziland is not what the West would typically associate with nationhood - flags or monuments - but the king himself. The relationship between king and people is demonstrated through the incwala, a ceremony lasting several weeks which focuses on traditional rule, unity of the state, primacy of agriculture, sacredness of land, fertility and potency. Mswati's relationship with his people has been made even more unique through the introduction of chastity decrees for the under-18s to combat the rise of AIDS. However, Mswati III broke the rule when he married a 17-year-old girl, his thirteenth wife, in 2005. Mswati III has come under further criticism for attempting to purchase a private plane during a period of persistent drought and famine. Dissent grew so vociferous that the media was banned from making disparaging remarks about the monarchy, and the plane in particular. In the third year of drought, further plans to build luxury palaces for his wives whilst his people starved led to mass criticism. In 2005, Mswati III signed the country's first constitution though, in effect, nothing has changed: opposition parties remain banned, and the King remains absolute monarch.

Swaziland's main exports are sugar, grown on plantations throughout Swaziland, soft drink concentrates, cotton, maize, tobacco, rice and wood pulp. Demand for asbestos, once a major export, has fallen greatly due to health risks associated with the product. The land is badly overgrazed and overfarmed. This is particularly problematic as Swaziland suffers from persistent droughts. Unemployment hovers at around 25%. This figure is contributed to by inability to work as a result of AIDS.

Swazis build their huts depending on whether they are descended from Nguni or Sotho: Nguni huts are beehive in shape; Sotho huts have window frames and full doorways. Living space is roughly divided into three parts: living accommodation, animal housing and the 'great' hut, reserved for the spirits of the patrilineal ancestors. Each chief's wife has her own hut. Land is owned by local chiefs or the Crown; much land has been bought back for the nation and unclaimed spaces are used for grazing and collection of firewood. There is a growing class system due to the expansion of the middle classes. Social rank can be determined through the individual's relation to the head of their clan or to the royal family. In urban areas, fluency and proficiency in English is the main social delineator.

There are festivals and ceremonies throughout the year, the most notable being the King's Birthday on April 19 which is celebrated with a national 'day off' and local festivities, and the Reed Umhlanga Dance, a three day ceremony which takes place around August when thousands of maidens virgins congregate from all over Swaziland. The King is permitted to pick a new bride from their number.


Volunteer for a day at Matjana Preschool, a not-for-profit pre-primary school in Kaphunga, Rural Swaziland. For more details and to contact us at Matjana (https://sites.google.com/...). Matjana Preschool was established by a group of volunteers without any organizational assistance and opened in 2007, the first preschool in the area. Since then with the support of International donors it has grown from strength to strength. In 2007, 19 children attended Matjana Preschool and one local woman was employed as the preschool teacher working with an Australian volunteer teacher. In 2008 newly purchased furniture has allowed the organization to increase the class size; they now have a class of 22 students and enough funds to pay a second local teacher. They hope to build a new classroom at some point in the future depending on donations so that they can accept up to thirty students per year and continue employing two local women.