Geographically, Swaziland is characterized by three regions: the high veld, middle veld, and low veld. The high veld is mountainous and dominated by high grassland that decorates a rugged country. The average elevation in this region is about 4,000 feet above sea level. The slopes in the high veld make it difficult to farm and graze, although it is ideally suited for timber plantations. The middle veld is less elevated with an average elevation of 2,000 feet. Rainfall and fertile soil for agriculture characterize this region. The low veld lies in Swaziland’s east region. The elevation drops to about an average of 1,000 feet and bush vegetation and cattle ranching predominate. Cutting through Swaziland towards Mozambique in the east are five major rivers that empty into the Indian Ocean: the Ngawavuma, Komati, Umbeluzi, Lomati, and Usutu.
The people in Swaziland are 85% Swazi, a subgroup of the Bantu tribe. The two other black ethnic groups are the Tsonga and Zulu. The country also has a minority of Europeans, Indians, and Pakistanis. Swaziland has two major towns: Mbabane, which is a major trade center, and Manzini, which is the country’s commercial center and largest city. Outside of Mbabane and Manzini, the people live in small villages following a traditional way of life, although modern amenities like cars and television are beginning to creep into their lives. One of the charms of visiting Swaziland, however, is seeing the men and women in their traditional attire. Men wear a cloth that drapes over their right shoulder and under their left arms. On their legs, they have anklets and bracelets. Women in the countryside, on the other hand, wear skirts and cloaks draped by bright cloths.
Most of Swaziland’s tourist attractions are concentrated in the lush Ezulwini Valley, which has been dubbed “a miracle of nature”. The valley is home to the country’s largest and most famous casino, the Royal Swazi Sun Valley, which was built in the early 1990s by a South African syndicate and is credited for jump-starting Swaziland’s tourism industry. The Royal Swazi also has a spectacularly beautiful championship golf course, known as the Royal Swazi Golf Course, which is surrounded by lush green hillsides. The resort also offers a fully-equipped spa centered around hot mineral springs; it has been nicknamed by tourists as the “Cuddle Puddle”.
Swaziland is also a land of game parks and nature reserves. There are four nature reserves: Mlawula, Malolotja, Mantenga, and Hawane. These reserves are all inhabited by a diverse set of wildlife including rare species like the African finfoot and the aardwolf, as well as a wide range of birds, making them great places to birdwatch and safari-adventure.
There are also game parks and sanctuaries like the Mlilwane, Mkhaya, Malolotsha in the north, and Hlane in the northeast. These sanctuaries are wide open spaces where herds roam around in the traditional scenes broadcast on television and commonly associated with Africa. Malolotsha and Hlane are notable, in particular, for their location atop a mountain range that is surrounded by waterfalls and steep canyons, making both scenic and conveniently accessible by car or bus tour.
Another attraction of Swaziland is its local markets, many of them found between the Ezulwini Valley and the country’s largest city, Manzini. These markets feature food stalls that sell Swazi meats, maize, and roasted corn on the cob. The villages along the way also host traditional festivals, rituals, and dances thrown throughout the year.
Prehistoric remains have been found in Swaziland that indicate the original inhabitants were hunters and gatherers descended from the Khoisans. They were displaced by Bantu tribes who migrated south around the 16th century to present-day Mozambique. Conflicts arose with the Zulus in the mid-18th century, resulting in the Swazis moving to present-day Swaziland in the 19th century. The Swazis were united by King Mswati in the 1840s to fight against the strong Zulu people. In the late 1800s, Britain handed over Swaziland to South Africa against the wishes of the Swazis. The British took over governance of Swaziland during the Second Boer War that started in 1899.
After the war ended, Swazilansd became a protectorate of Britain. In 1968, Swaziland was granted full independence and King Sobhuza II was made the head of state. He was succeeded by King Sobhuza III in 1982.
Today, the country operates under a two-house Parliament – the Senate and House – but many of the members from both assemblies including the Prime Minister and his cabinet are appointed by the king. Pro-democracy protests persist to this day, as the royal regime has generally been criticized as oppressive. The king is often seen living lavishly, spending millions on himself and his numerous wives while the nation remains in relative poverty.