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10— A Nation Divided? The Swazi in Swaziland and the Transvaal, 1865–1986
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The Partition of the Swazi People

The pre-colonial Swazi state reached its greatest extent shortly before the death of King Mswati I in 1865. By this time, or soon thereafter, a distinct Swazi ethnic group, composed from Nguni, Sotho and Tsonga elements, had been created. The establishment of a tributary state under royal Dlamini leadership broke down the self-sufficiency of the homestead through the formation of nation-wide regiments in which young men from all the chieftaincies were brought together. The building of national rituals such as the ncwala, a first fruits ceremony and ritual of kingship, helped in the process of integration, as did dynastic marriages and the widespread establishment of royal villages under wives of the king with loyal indvunas . At the same time the composite nature of the kingdom was perpetuated and emphasized by the continued ranking of clans according to whether they came with, preceded, or arrived after the dominant Dlamini clan in the present Swazi area.[3]

A distinct Swazi language (siSwati) was first recorded in 1846 but regional dialectal differences persist until the present day, with Sotho influence discernible on the northern borders of the Swazi linguistic area in the Nelspruit and Lydenburg districts and Zulu influence strong in the southern part of Swaziland and the Piet Relief and Ermelo districts of the Transvaal. Standard Swati is based on the dialect spoken in the north central area of Swaziland itself, an area which includes the royal capitals of Lobamba and Lozita.[4] Many of what are regarded as


the most distinctive features of Swazi culture and political institutions—such as preferred cross-cousin marriage, the conciliar form of government, and the status and political role of the Queen Mother—have been attributed to Sotho influence.

The death of Mswati coincided with the first pressure of white settlers on the Swazi state, which had come to control the area between the Crocodile river in the north and the Pongola river in the south, and between the Lebombo mountains in the east and a boundary on the eastern highveld plateau in the west. The Transvaal Republic made various attempts to annex or establish a protectorate over Swaziland, but these were thwarted by the British who saw the Swazi as a useful barrier between the Boers and the sea. The present boundaries of Swaziland were first roughly demarcated in 1866, but they were more specifically defined by the British during their occupation of the Transvaal in 1880 and were included in the Conventions of Pretoria and London, in 1881 and 1884 respectively, which also guaranteed the independence of the kingdom.[5] In 1881 the Swazi accepted the southern and much of the western boundary line but objected to the line in the north and northwest which cut off from Swaziland three important royal villages: Mbhuleni in the modern Carolina district; Mjindini, near modern Barberton; and Mekemeke, northeast of Barberton.[6] The Swazi king, Mbandzeni, continued to dispute the border in this area until shortly before his death in 1889, and until that time the Swazi definition of 'Swaziland' extended beyond Barberton to the Crocodile river in the north and along the upper reaches of the Komati river in the west.[7]

From the mid-1860s onwards the Swazi on the eastern highveld, most of whom in fact lived in the middleveld valleys, such as the Komati, which intersected it, rather than on the cold highveld itself, came under increasing pressure. White settlers, many of whom were associated with the New Scotland scheme, at first sought Swazi labour and paid for it, but then by the mid-1870s began to demand tribute from people who lived on 'their' land. There was some resistance, but the people were gradually transformed into squatters paying rent in labour, kind, or cash. The population was increased by the labour demands of farmers who brought people in from Swaziland or elsewhere.[8] The attitude of farmers and officials on the highveld, where most farms by the end of the nineteenth century were occupied by the owners, was distinctly hostile to the preservation of chiefly authority and ethnic loyalties. Speaking of the Ermelo district in 1914, General Tobias Smuts told the Beaumont Commission with evident satisfaction: "There are no tribes there.'[9] The Native Commissioner for Carolina commented at the same time that the widow of Mswati at Mbhuleni lived on a private farm 'just as another squatter'.[10]

In the predominantly middle and lowveld district of Barberton to the north of Swaziland the pressure of white settlement began to be experienced with the gold rush of the mid-1880s, but the prevalence of malaria deterred owner occupation. The bulk of the land in this district and in the low-lying areas of the Piet Relief district remained until after World War I in the hands of the Crown or of land companies and thus effectively in 'native occupation'. Although there was some competition from highveld farmers who used these areas for winter grazing and as private labour reserves, many chiefs survived relatively undisturbed. They were able to retain influence in their areas through the performance of religious rituals, the settlement of disputes for small fees, and the retention of relatively large herds of cattle which enabled them to continue to make alliances through marriage, aided by the higher rates of lobolo (bridewealth) obtained for their daughters. In some cases they were able to command some tribute in labour or kind and continued to perform the chiefly duty of hospitality. The agent of the New


Scotland Land Company observed in 1917 of some low-lying farms in the Piet Retief district:

I do not know whether you know that all that ground is parcelled off among the chiefs living in that area. A native will not go into the area of a chief unless he gets that chief's permission to do so. The chiefs down there have more power over the natives than the white man does.[11]

By the early twentieth century a distinction had emerged, at least in the view of the officials of the Transvaal Native Affairs Department, between a predominantly highveld district such as Ermelo, where the population was regarded as 'detribalized' and 'unattached' to chiefs, and a middle and lowveld district such as Barberton, where two-thirds of the population was regarded as 'attached' to chiefs. In the latter district almost half of this population was living in an unsurveyed block of 500 square miles of Crown Land lying south of the Lomati river and adjacent to the borders of Mozambique and Swaziland.[12] A witness to the Transvaal Labour Commission of 1903 commented that only an experienced observer could tell apart the Swazi of Swaziland and the Swazi of this district, as 'really only an imaginary border' separated them. As late as 1935, Van Warmelo, who had been unable to discover any information in official records on the chiefs of Ermelo district, or to make any reliable estimate of the ethnic composition of the district, described the Swazi of the Barberton district as 'almost an integrating part [sic ] of the Swazi nation'.[13]

The official distinction between the 'detribalized' highveld and the 'tribal' middle and lowveld areas reflected as much as anything the division of the African labour force between the farms and the mines. Crown and company land was the major source of labour for the mines, while labour on the highveld was immobilized in the interests of the local farming community who continued to complain for many years about a labour shortage. Pressure from the mining companies induced the government in 1921–22 to purchase 20,000 morgen of land in the Piet Retief district which was to be held in communal tenure and was intended to relieve congestion on company farms and keep up the flow of labour to the mines.[14]

While it would be an oversimplification to equate the survival of chiefly authority with the maintenance of ethnic identity or consciousness, there was probably some correlation. Certainly chiefs were to be vital agents in the mobilization of ethnic power at a later date. That chiefs and 'tribal' institutions were repressed rather than eliminated is demonstrated by the fact that the government was able to rediscover chiefs, when it eventually wished to do so in the 1950s, even in districts such as Ermelo which had for many decades been officially 'detribalized'. While officials in the years immediately following the Anglo-Boer War showed little interest in either chiefs or ethnicity in the Ermelo and Carolina districts, the 1904 census did estimate, on uncertain criteria, the Swazi element as 55 per cent of the total. It found a significant minority of Swazi in the neighbouring districts of Piet Retief and Wakkerstroom, as well as in Standerton and Lydenburg. The largest proportion was found in the Barberton district, to the north of Swaziland, where about 63 per cent of the total population was said to be Swazi.[15]

The later 1880s brought a rush of concession hunters into Swaziland, and these 'bought' the land and its minerals several times over. As a result of a deal between Britain and the Transvaal, in 1895 the country became, much against the wishes of the Swazi themselves, a protectorate of the Transvaal. The convention of 1894 protected, on certain conditions, the rights of the Swazi king over his subjects, and


also included a non-disturbance clause which protected the rights of Swazi occupiers against the claims of concessionaires, whose titles had generally been recognized by a special court in 1890.[16] Following the Anglo-Boer War, the country was administered as a part of the Transvaal from 1902 to 1906, when it was saved from complete incorporation into the Transvaal by the impossibility of sorting out the tangle of disputed concessions before the transfer which was provided for in the Schedule to the Union of South Africa Act of 1909 could be effected.[17]

The discussions which preceded the land partition of the latter year provide classic material on questions of colonial social engineering. Drawing on evidence to the Lagden Commission and on the slightly earlier partition of Zululand, there was lengthy debate on the amount of land required to sustain the average family and on the advantages and disadvantages for government and settlers of a few large or many small reserves. The Zulu Rising of 1906 overshadowed the partition, and while this prompted the High Commissioner, Lord Selborne, to advocate caution, the settler leader and newspaper editor, Allister Miller, demanded the 'denationalization' of the Swazi as the only guarantee of settler security.[18] While Miller saw reserves as an impediment to progress, the Swazi leaders also opposed reserves because most of the country had been alienated through medium-term grazing leases which safeguarded rights of cultivation. These areas would eventually revert to the nation. The eventual compromise between the settler and official positions resulted in a three-way division of the country between the concessionaires, the Swazi, and the Crown. The Swazi were led to believe that the bulk of Crown Land would be available for their use, but in fact it was almost all sold off in later years to finance recurrent governmental expenditure.[19]

Almost half of the Swazi within colonial Swaziland were left outside the 32 scheduled reserves and were given until 1914 to decide whether to come to terms with their landlords as labour tenants or to move into the reserves. Care was taken in demarcating the reserves to inconvenience chiefs as little as possible and important graves were included in Swazi Nation areas. The partition was intended to satisfy the conflicting interests of settlers who sought labour tenants and of Witwatersrand mining interests, which owned concessions in Swaziland and sought labour migrants. Lord Selborne did not envisage that the reserves would become the home of all Swaziland's Swazi or that those who moved into them would be able to meet all their needs through agriculture. The partition would have failed in its objects if it had.[20]

The consequence of the partition was to bring about by 1914 in Swaziland a situation which was broadly similar to that in the Transvaal. Most of the highveld passed into the hands of white owner-occupier, though often seasonally absentee, farmers with labour tenants. Much of the middle and lowveld remained in effective Swazi occupation as reserves, Crown land and unoccupied farms. In so far as the Swazi of Swaziland had some land reserved specifically to them they were better off than their relatives in the Transvaal, but only marginally so. Chiefs in Swaziland whose people came to be divided between reserves and farms began to confront many of the difficulties of jurisdiction which had already affected their counterparts in the Transvaal.[21]

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10— A Nation Divided? The Swazi in Swaziland and the Transvaal, 1865–1986
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