Swaziland is Africa's smallest country. The country is a kingdom and is landlocked, being surrounded on three sides by the Republic of South Africa and along its eastern edge by Mozambique. The country gets its name from the Swazi tribe, a Bantu people. Swaziland has the dubious fame of having the world's highest HIV infection rate, sitting at over 42% of its population. Because of this the present low life expectancy of 32 years is expected to drop to 29 years by the year 2010. In spite of this the Swaziland ranks among Africa's more prosperous countries, though most of the economy is in the hands of non-Africans.
Swaziland is an absolute kingdom. It is ruled over by the king, presently currently King Mswati III, who by tradition rules alongside his mother, the Indlovukazi, or Great She-Elephant. The king is the administrative Head of State while his mother is the spiritual Head of State. The king appoints a prime minister who is the head of government, and also appoints a small number of representatives for both chambers of the parliament. The Senate consists of 30 members, while the House of Assembly has 65 seats, 55 of which are occupied by elected representatives (elections are held every 5 years in November). Although the parliament does have elected members the country remains essentially an absolute monarchy.
The western half of Swaziland lies within the Drakensberg Range of Mountains, and the eastern border with Mozambique lies along the Lebombo Mountain Range. Swaziland offers a wide variety of landscapes from savannas in the east and rainforest in the northwest. There are numerous rivers in the country. With 50,000 inhabitants, the capital, Mbabane, is the largest town in the country; other large towns include Manzini, Lobamba and Siteki. The Swazi people are generally a laid back people and are more likely to celebrate for fun than to demonstrate for democratic reform.
The earliest inhabitants of the area that is now Swaziland were Khoisan hunter-gatherers, and remains and artifacts from these people have been dated as being some 100,000 years old. The Khoisan were replaced by Bantu tribes from central Africa during the great Bantu migrations, and there is evidence to show agriculture and iron use as far back as the 4th century. The current ruling Dlamini lineage dates back to the 18th century. The first white people started settling in the area in the 19th century, and after the Anglo-Boer Wars the country became a British Protectorate. Swaziland gained its independence in 1968, and since then there has been a struggle of sorts between pro-democracy activists and the monarchy.
Traditional healers hold a very special place in the Kingdom of Swaziland. They are looked on with high regard by the people of Swaziland who see them as doctors, prophets, priests, herbalists and oracle readers, which gives them a great deal of responsibility. Nearly all of the Swazi people consult them, and there are both male and female traditional healers. The traditional healer is known as an Inyanga and he or she inherits their skill from their grandfather and father. The profession is dominated by men and the Inyanga holds a senior place in Swazi society. His main function is divination, which is usually carried out by throwing the bones. After several throws when the bones fall into different patterns, the Inyanga will scrutinize them and then spell out a clear message in lyrical siSwati.
To sum up, Swaziland, although small, has much to offer. It is a wild and beautiful country that should be included in the itinery of any visitor to southern Africa.