The Swazi People

The Swazi people are from the Nguni, one of the ancient ethnic-tribal groups, or nations, indigenous to Africa. The Nguni originated in the Great Lakes area of Central Africa many centuries ago. The Swazis are further identified as a part of the Nkosi-Dlamini group who broke away from the main Nguni nation and settled in Mozambique in the 17th century.

Swaziland is one of the few remaining Kingdoms, and the only absolute monarchy in Africa. Tradition traces the royal family back to the 15th century. After much inter-tribal conflict King Ngwane III led his people out of Mozambique, around 1750, and settled in what is now southeast Swaziland. Over the next century they assimilated many different groups and clans despite much difficulty with the Zulus during the time of the “Mfecane ”. King Mswati II, 1840-1868, inherited a Kingdom that is twice the size of current Swaziland and was the last truly independent leader of the Swazis (Swazi means “people of Mswati”). Then pressure came from land-hungry white settlers especially during the “Great Trek” in which many Afrikaners left the Cape area and moved inland.

In 1894 Swaziland came under British control. As a result the Kingdom became a British High Commission Territory in 1907 and their land was partitioned. They were allowed to keep only one third of their territory - the part that was least suited to cultivation. The remainder is a small egg-shaped country of 17,400 square kilometers (6,705 sq. miles-slightly smaller than the U.S. State of Massachusetts); with a current population of about one million people whose first language is siSwati. There are more Swazis living in South Africa than in the Kingdom itself. Swaziland has: four geographic regions that are situated like “shelves”; an elevation that varies from 500 to 4500 feet above sea level; a wide range of climatic conditions; it’s capitol is Mbabane; a traditional and spiritual center in Lobamba; and, an industrial and agricultural center in Manzini. This country is surrounded by South Africa (provinces of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga), and Mozambique.

European settlers and missionaries exploited, repressed and culturally isolated the Swazi people at the same time they introduced them to Christianity. They presented Christianity in a ritualistic-white-culture format, rather than a Gospel oriented, culturally sensitive, and evangelical approach. Many Swazis claim to be Christians, but their true allegiance is more often to African Traditional Religion (ATR-animism and ancestor worship). Many of the Christian churches, and especially the so-called “indigenous churches”, have introduced syncretism that accommodates mixing Christianity and ATR. Evangelical Christianity has declined since Great Britain granted independence to Swaziland in 1968. However, we find the Swazis to be very open to the Gospel, as long as the approach is culturally sensitive and respectful.

The overwhelming problems of HIV/AIDS, unemployment, and the corresponding poverty are the all-consuming issues relative to evangelism, as well as, maintaining life itself in Swaziland. The unemployment rate is at least 45%, and is increasing. Swaziland has a very high percentage (over 35% and second in the world, after Botswana) of the population living with HIV/AIDS, and it is estimated that one third of the population will die within 10 years. All of this, combined with bad governance is creating a spiraling sense of hopelessness for the Swazi people.

The Southeastern Africa Cluster (SEAC) is engaged in Swaziland through the Swaziland Evangelical Team (SET). These efforts confirm that there are more Swazi’s living in the RSA’s Mpumalanga Province than in Swaziland itself, and that God is working among all these people. Therefore, we have established the Mpumalanga Evangelism Team (MET), and are working, praying and trusting God to greatly expand the work in both areas.

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