The diminutive yet intriguing country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), officially the Kingdom of Eswatini, is located in southern Africa. One of the smallest countries in Africa, it is filled with stunning mountain and flatland scenery, superb walking trails, and exuberant local culture. Here are some interesting facts about Eswatini.
Facts about Swaziland (Eswatini)
1. Eswatini is the second-smallest country on the African mainland.
Occupying a total area of 17,364 km² (6,704 sq mi), Eswatini is mainland Africa’s second-smallest country, with only The Gambia being smaller. It extends about 175 km (110 mi) from north to south and about 130 km (80 mi) from west to east at its largest dimensions. Comparatively, Eswatini is slightly larger than the US state of Connecticut.
2. Eswatini is landlocked and shares a land border with two countries.
Eswatini is bordered by Mozambique (108 km/67 mi) to its northeast and South Africa (438 km/272 mi) to its north, west, and south.
3. Eswatini is also the second-least populous country on the African mainland.
With a population of a little over 1.15 million, Eswatini is the second-least populated African mainland country (only Djibouti has a smaller population) and the sixth-least populated country in Africa.
4. The tallest peak in Eswatini is Emlembe.
Located in the east of the country in the uKhahlamba (or Drakensberg) mountain range, on the border with South Africa, Emlembe is the tallest mountain in Eswatini rising to an elevation of 1,862 m (6,109 ft).
5. Eswatini is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and one of the few remaining in the world.
One of the important facts about Eswatini is that it is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world. An absolute monarchy is a form of government that gives a monarch supreme authority, unimpeded by written laws, legislature, or customs.
Mswati III is the current monarch of Eswatini. By tradition, the king reigns along with his mother who is known as the “Nndlovukazi” (She-elephant) while the King is referred to as “Nngwenyama” (Lion).
6. Eswatini was formerly known as Swaziland.
As a protectorate and later as an independent country, Eswatini was long known as Swaziland. The name Swazi is the Anglicized name of an early king and nation builder, Mswati II, who ruled from 1840 to 1868.
In April 2018, King Mswati III announced that he was changing the official name of the country from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini, which means “land of the Swazis.” Two of the reasons cited behind the name change were a changing of the colonial name and to avoid constantly being confused with Switzerland.
7. Eswatini is a former British Protectorate.
From the mid-19th century, Eswatini attracted increasing numbers of European farmers in search of land for cattle, as well as hunters, and missionaries. Over the next decades, the Swazis saw their territory cut down as the British and Afrikaners jostled for power in the area.
In 1881 the British government signed a convention recognizing Eswatini’s sovereignty. However, controversial land and mineral rights concessions were made under the authority of the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890 in terms of which the administration of Swaziland was also placed under that of the then South African Republic (Transvaal).
8. Eswatini was the last of Britain’s territorial possessions in Africa to be granted independence.
In 1902, after the British victory in the Second Boer War, Eswatini became a British protectorate known as the Swaziland Protectorate. Under British administration, the country largely remained a backwater of the British Empire.
Its transition from protectorate status to independence wasn’t otherwise remarkable. A constitution providing for limited self-government was promulgated in 1963, and in 1967 the country became a protected state under which the kingship was restored. Finally, on 6 September 1968 Eswatini achieved full independence, 66 years after the establishment of the British protectorate.
9. Eswatini had the longest-reigning monarch in world history.
King Sobhuza II, the present King’s father, reigned from 1899 to 1982 and spent 82 years and 253 days on the throne. This makes him the longest-reigning monarch in world history.
10. Eswatini has two capital cities.
One of the fun facts about Eswatini is that it is one of the few countries to officially have more than one capital. The country’s executive capital and administrative center is Mbabane.
Lobamba is Eswatini’s legislative capital and the seat of King Mswati III and his mother, some 18 km (11 mi) from Mbabane. It is home to the houses of parliament and other national institutions.
11. Eswatini is largely ethnically homogenous.
The majority of Eswatini’s population is ethnically Swazi (~85%), mixed with a small number of Zulu (~10%). The remainder of the population consists mostly of White Africans, mostly people of British and Afrikaner descent, and immigrants from Mozambique.
Together with the Xhosas and the Zulus, the Swazi people are descended from the Southern Bantu who migrated from Central Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. They consist of more than 70 clans, of which the Nkhosi Dlamini, the royal clan, is dominant.
12. Eswatini has two official languages.
English and Siswati are the official languages of Eswatini. English is widely used in print, in the media, in higher education, in the judicial system, and in public services. Spoken by almost all Swazi, Siswati is a Bantu language that is similar to Zulu, Xhosa, and Ndebele.
13. The official currency of Eswatini is the Lilangeni (SZL).
The Swazi lilangeni was introduced in 1974 and is pegged to the South African Rand (ZAR) at 1:1. The South African rand is also accepted as a legal tender within Eswatini.
14. Christianity is the most popular religion in Eswatini.
Around 90% of Eswatini’s population adheres to Christianity, with about 40% of the population affiliated with the Zionist Church, professing a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship. 20% of Swazis are Catholics and about 30% are Anglicans, Methodists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
15. Eswatini is home to the world’s oldest mine.
Eswatini is indeed home to the world’s oldest known mine on archaeological record. Known as the Ngwenya Mine (Lion Cavern), carbon dating has shown this mine to have been in use since around 43,000 BC.
Ngwenya Mine lies on Bomvu ridge, near the northwestern border of Eswatini. Paleolithic humans mined a mineral known as hematite, which contains iron. The hematite was ground into ocher – a red pigment – which, back in those times, was used as a cosmetic, an insect repellent, protection from the sun, or even as a way to stop bleeding.
16. Eswatini has the world’s highest prevalence rate for HIV/AIDS.
Eswatini holds the rather unflattering distinction of being the country with the world’s highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS. According to the CIA World Factbook, a little over 27% of adults (aged 15-49) are living with HIV/AIDS in Eswatini.
17. Eswatini is one of only four nations that is located completely below the Tropic of Capricorn.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about Eswatini is that it is one of only four countries that is located completely below the Tropic of Capricorn (the others being Lesotho, New Zealand, and Uruguay). The Tropic of Capricorn is located approximately 23.4 degrees south of the equator.
18. Eswatini is one of the few countries in the world where both black and white rhinos can be found.
Both the south-central black rhinoceros and the southern white rhinoceros species can be found in Eswatini. It is also possible to observe the famous Big Five game animals of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo.
Furthermore, Eswatini is home to over 100 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles and amphibians, and over 3,500 indigenous species of plants.
19. Eswatini has never won an Olympic medal.
Despite having first participated at the Summer Olympics in 1972, Eswatini is still searching for that elusive Olympic medal.
20. There are no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Eswatini.
However, that might soon change as the Ngwenya Mine in Eswatini is on UNESCO’s tentative list.
21. The famous British actor Richard E. Grant was born in Eswatini.
British actor Richard E. Grant was born in Mbabane in 1957 when his father was head of education for the British government administration in the British Protectorate of Swaziland.
Grant is known for his roles in films like Withnail and I (1987) How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989), Hudson Hawk (1991), The Player (1992), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), The Age of Innocence (1993), Gosford Park (2001), The Iron Lady (2011), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
22. Football is the most popular sport in Eswatini.
Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Eswatini.. However, the Eswatini national football team has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup or even the Africa Cup of Nations. The Eswatini national football team is nicknamed “King’s Shield” (Sihlangu Semnikati).
23. In Eswatini, the king cannot appoint his successor.
Interestingly, there is no heir to the throne in Eswatini. An independent council called the Liqoqo (Inner or Privy Council) decides which of the king’s many wives shall be the “Great Wife” and the son of this so-called “Great Wife” is automatically appointed the king.
24. After the death of Eswatini’s King Sobhuza II in 1982, the reigning queen enforced a 75-day mourning period that only allowed commerce essential to the life of the nation.
What’s even more intriguing is that during the mourning period, the queen outlawed sexual intercourse, and those caught were punished by flogging.
25. The Umhlanga Reed Dance Festival is Eswatini’s best-known cultural event.
The Umhlanga Reed Dance Festival is something like a debutante ball for marriageable young Swazi women. In this eight-day ceremony full of dancing, rites, and rituals, more than 40,000 young girls from all over the country, as well as Swazi girls from South Africa, cut reeds and present them to the Queen Mother – ostensibly to repair the windbreak around her royal residence in Lobamba.
The festival serves a similar function in drawing the nation together and reminding the people of their relationship with the King and the royal family. It takes place in late August or early September.
26. Eswatini drives on the left.
Perhaps not surprising since it is a former British protectorate.