The ancestors of the Swazi probably moved into the Mozambique area from the north prior to the 16th cent. Fleeing Zulu attacks in the early 19th cent., they settled in present-day Swaziland. During the 1800s, Europeans entered the area to seek concessions, and in 1894, Swaziland became a protectorate of the Transvaal. In 1906, Swaziland became a High Commission Territory ruled by a British commissioner. Limited self-government was not granted until 1963, and four years later Swaziland became a kingdom under a new constitution. On Sept. 6, 1968, Swaziland achieved complete independence but retained membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. The king became the head of state, administering through a cabinet and a prime minister chosen by parliament.
In 1973, King Sobhuza II (reigned 1921–82) abrogated the constitution and assumed personal rule. The Swazi people continued to find a common cause in resistance to incorporation into South Africa, which was favored by the country's Afrikaner minority. The original constitution was formally abolished in 1976. A new constitution was adopted in 1978, but it so diluted the vote that the king ruled nearly absolutely.
In 1982, South Africa and Swaziland formally agreed to defend each other's security interests, with Swaziland promising to deport African National Congress (ANC) members back to South Africa. After 61 years as monarch, Sobhuza died and Prince Makhosetive Dlamini was selected as his successor in 1982; he was crowned King Mswati III in 1986. The late 1980s were marked by periodic raids by South African troops searching for ANC dissidents operating from Swaziland.
In 1992, severe drought conditions put Swaziland in danger of famine. During the 1990s a series of protest actions by prodemocracy dissidents put increasing pressure on the king. The country's first parliamentary elections were held in 1993 (and have been held every five years since then), but candidates for the lower house have to be nonpartisan and are nominated by local councils (the upper house is largely appointed by the king).
The early 21st cent. has seen increased pressure from opposition groups for limitation of the powers of the king, who has been criticized for abuse of power and personal indulgence, and for establishment of a democratically elected parliament, but the king has steadfastly resisted making any significant changes. A new constitution that the king approved in July, 2005, did not diminish the king's ultimate hold on power. The same month the African Union's human rights commission criticized Swaziland for failing to conform with the African Charter and gave the government six months to rectify the situation.
The country suffered severe crop losses in 2007 due to drought; an estimated 400,000 were expected to need food assistance before the next harvest (in 2008). Before elections for Swaziland's parliament were held in Sept., 2008, prodemocracy forces mounted protests to little effect, despite negative publicity generated by the extravagant lifestyle of the king and his family. A recession-related drop in Southern African customs revenues in 2010 led to a government financial crisis late that year and continuing into subsequent years. The government sought a sizable loan from South Africa, but did not want to agree to the reform conditions attached to the loan; the king's income was unaffected by the crisis.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.