On the Road in Swaziland

The area just south of Kruger is a lush subtropical world, much of it swathed in sugar cane.
It is a fully managed landscape, irrigation systems pumping even on this dark rainy day, cane workers moving through the fields, the smell of burning cane hanging in the air. There seems to be nothing wild here at all. It is a dramatic change after Kruger.

We leave South Africa at Jeppe’s Reef, a small border post where we are swiftly (and efficiently) processed. Its efficiency belies all the stereotypes of bumbling African bureaucracy. 
But it still has that developing world feel when we are sent back out into the street to walk (we aren’t allowed to board the coaches) the short distance down the road to Mastamo Border Post in Swaziland. Both sides of the border area are rather scruffy, but we are processed with equal efficiency on the Swazi side. How much Roger’s familiarity and organization helped is hard to say, but everyone we meet is polite, professional and efficient. It is impressive.
There is a town here, but it seems quite small and soon we are back on the bus and off on the main highway into Swaziland. (Well, the main highway for this part of the country, there are big expressways around the major cities.) Mostly the landscape is rural, regularly dotted with homes (in a wide variety of styles) and small businesses.
(Yes, this is the main highway in this part of the country!)
Mbabane is Swaziland’s largest city and the capital of the kingdom.
Lobamba is both the royal and legislative capital. This is where and where the King and Queen Mother have their residences and where the Parliament meets. 
What to say about the Kingdom of Swaziland? I can tell you that where we are has a varied geography, but is mostly green and mountainous. But then, the pictures show that. Likewise, the pictures hint at the level of poverty here, but don’t give any indication of the warmth, friendliness or skill of the people.

Nor do pictures capture the fact that King Mswati III is one of the wealthiest men in world – yet his country is destitute, ranking as one of the poorest in the world.

Then there is the culture. Swazi culture allows (encourages) polygamy. The king has about a dozen wives himself (which is nothing compared to the 70 wives his father had). Despite the fact that the king is selected through a convoluted process linked to the mother’s status (which is pretty interesting and would seem to have some value in limiting the power of any small family), the best most women can hope for seems to be to marry well and live a comfortable life with lots of children – which will bring her power of a type. It seems like a sad place and one where, no matter how much I try to tell myself that all cultures are equally valid, I can’t make myself believe it.


  1. Doing a little research on Swaziland today for another post and found that the King's official web site was down. That seemed odd, so did a little more research and found that the king is having a few troubles - or at least his hand-picked government is. More info at http://allafrica.com/stories/201210081357.html


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