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

After the death of King Mbandzeni in 1889 there appears to have been a long period during the minorities of his son, Bhunu, and his grandson, Sobhuza, when


the Swazi ruling elite took very little public interest in the Swazi of the Transvaal. Although there are occasional references in the speeches of councillors to the former extent of the Swazi kingdom and to the shifting of boundary beacons, there seems to have been an acceptance of the new boundaries as an indisputable fact of life.[22] In all the voluminous documentation relating to the Swazi deputations to England in 1894 and 1907, for instance, as well as in numerous other petitions, and the records of izindaba, there is hardly a reference to the Swazi of the Transvaal.

As late as 1913 a deputation from Swaziland, under the leadership of Prince Malunge, son of Queen Labotsibeni and uncle of the young Prince Sobhuza, visited Barberton to pay their respects to the High Commissioner, Lord Gladstone. They presented a long list of grievances but made no reference to the Swazi of the Transvaal.[23] But in the following year the manager of Moodie's Gold Mining and Exploration Company, on whose land the Mjindini royal village near Barberton stood, commented that the Swazi in the district 'still cling strongly to tribal ties and look, I believe, as much to Swaziland for guidance as to the Union Government'.[24]

There is ample evidence that the two other major royal villages at Mbhuleni and Mekemeke also maintained close contact with the royal house in Swaziland. There were also a number of other Swazi chieftaincies which kept up their links with Swaziland. The Shongwe chief, Matamu, on the northern border had in 1914 an induna and followers in Swaziland.[25] Mbudula, the chief of the Mahlalela, whose territory had been split three ways between the Transvaal, Swaziland and Mozambique, maintained homesteads in all three countries, though his headquarters was in the Transvaal. His clan acquired a reputation for independence, but he, when giving evidence to the Beaumont Commission in 1914, claimed: 'I am a Swazi.'[26] Hilda Kuper summarized the position in the mid-1930s as follows: '. . . outside the territory in the Barberton, Carolina and Piet Relief districts are large groups of loyal subjects who inform their king, Sobhuza, of any important events, occasionally send him tribute, receive emissaries from him and have him ratify the appointment of their local chiefs'.[27]

From about 1910, the Swazi Queen and council, after a lengthy period of introspection in which their entire attention appears to have been concentrated on the battle to avoid Swaziland's incorporation into the Transvaal and on resistance to the land partition, began to adopt a more extrovert position, seeing that advantages could be gained from participation in South Africa-wide political activity. As a result of the land partition and high taxation, the Swazi of Swaziland were becoming much more involved in labour migration to the Witwatersrand where they were lumped together with the South African Swazi as a single category.[28] Above all, the Schedule to the Union of South Africa Act, providing for the incorporation of the High Commission Territories, and the common knowledge that Swaziland was first on the list for transfer meant that the Swazi had nothing to lose, and possibly something to gain, from adopting a less parochial stance. They now saw threats to the interests of South African 'Natives' as equally a threat to themselves.

Queen Labotsibeni put the position very frankly in 1914 when she was reported as saying:

that as Swaziland would no doubt enter the Union at some future date she was in sympathy with any efforts tending towards the betterment of the conditions under which Union natives live, and for this reason her son Malunge had become a member of the Native Congress and her people had assisted in


contributions for the proposed delegation to England in connection with the Union Land Act.[29]

Queen Labotsibeni had earlier made contact with Pixley kalsaka Seme, who had recently returned as a lawyer from the United States and Britain. He drafted a petition for the Swazi council in 1912, and in the same year Queen Labotsibeni provided almost all the capital for Seme's paper, Abantu-Batho, which the Swazi royal family continued to support until its collapse in the late 1920s. It was founded in connection with the South African Natives' National Congress which held its first meeting in January 1912.[30]

The congress was seen by its founders, among whom Pixley Seme was a prime mover, as a response to Union. Its aim was to foster the unity of the 'natives' and to combat 'tribalism'. The South African 'tribes' were not, however, seen in themselves as an impediment to unity but as the building blocks from which unity could be constructed. The Paramount Chiefs of the major southern Africa 'tribes' were appointed as honorary presidents of the organization and were viewed not only as a potential source of financial support but also as a bridge between the growing African intelligentsia and the rural masses. The congress, which was conceived along parliamentary lines, was to have an Upper House of chiefs and a Lower House of commoners. The legitimacy of the chiefs as the 'natural' rulers of their people was assumed. Seme himself, who eventually married princesses of the Swazi and Zulu royal families, was a consistent champion both of chiefly authority and of 'race pride', by which he seems usually to have meant ethnic or 'tribal' loyalty.[31]

The primary interest of the Swazi Queen and council in the congress was undoubtedly in the campaign against the Land Act. They had embarked on a campaign to buy back concession land from its holders and therefore had a special interest in the restrictions on purchase which it imposed. The extension of the terms of the Act to Swaziland would bring an end to their schemes. Prince Malunge, together with Benjamin Nxumalo, the brother of the young Queen Mother Lomawa, and uncle of Sobhuza, played an active part in the early meetings of the congress, as did Josiah Vilakazi, secretary to Queen Labotsibeni. When Prince Malunge attended the special congress held in 1914 at Kimberley to protest against the Land Act, he was treated as the most distinguished delegate.[32]

The premature death of Prince Malunge in 1915, which was publicly mourned by congress leaders J.L. Dube, Pixley Seme and Sol Plaatje, did not end the assertion of a wider South African role by the Swazi royal house.[33] In 1916 Cleopas Kunene, one of the first editors of Abantu-Batho and a member of the Swazi deputation to England in 1894, organized an extravagant reception in Johannesburg for Prince Sobhuza who was on his way to school at Lovedale.[34] A few years later, in 1921, Sobhuza was to buy six stands and a house in Sophiatown which became a meeting place for the Swazi in Johannesburg.[35]

The first serious attempt at intervention by the Swazi Queen on behalf of the Transvaal Swazi came in 1918 in connection with the implementation of the section of the Land Act which provided for the creation of additional reserves. Queen Labotsibeni heard in January 1918 that the Eastern Transvaal Land Committee was seeking evidence and asked the Resident Commissioner in Swaziland to inform it that it was 'my wish as well as the wish of all the Swazi living in the Transvaal' that they be given 'a strip of land [from] the Barberton line right down to the Pongola river near Chief Sithambe'.[36] The High Commissioner, Lord Buxton, indicated that her views would be put to the committee, but if they were, they can have had little impact as there was no question of any highveld area in the


eastern Transvaal being set aside as reserve.[37]

Evidence was also given to the committee at Ermelo by a delegation of the South African Natives' National Congress, most of whom were Swazi, and described themselves as such, and one of whom, Joseph Hlubi, had close ties with the royal house. They expressed their desire to remain on the highveld, whether in reserves or not, and protested vigorously at the proposal contained in the Native Administration Bill to charge licence fees for squatters and labour tenants in a drive to reduce the highveld population to the status of full-time servants or to force them to move into lowveld reserves.[38] The committee made an impassioned plea for a gradualist approach. It stressed the need for development in new reserves and pointed out in prophetic language that: 'to transport Natives even from the exiguous conveniences of settled life in non-Native areas suddenly and in large masses to areas which they still have to prepare before they can exist in them would be dangerous in the extreme'.[39]

The Botha government withdrew the bill, as, faced with the conflicting claims for labour from highveld farmers and the mining companies, it was unable to get a majority for it. The same conflict ensured that the scheduling of reserves was indefinitely delayed.[40] Meanwhile in 1919 the Swazi Queen and council made one further attempt to intervene on behalf of their 'subjects' in the Transvaal. In a trenchant petition, presumably drafted by Seme and clearly influenced by the tone of Wilson's Fourteen Points, they demanded among other things the recognition of 'the independence of Swaziland with its own sovereign power' and the provision of land for the Swazi in the districts of Barberton, Carolina, Ermelo, Piet Relief, and Wakkerstroom. The petition referred for the first time to what would be a recurring theme: promises allegedly contained in the conventions of 1881 and 1884 that 'locations' would be established for the Swazi in the eastern Transvaal who were said to be living under a 'veiled form of slavery'.[41] The responses to this petition and to petitions in 1921 and 1922 which sought the recognition of Sobhuza as king of the Swazi on both sides of the border were negative.[42]

At about this time the continuing influence of Queen Labotsibeni over the Swazi of the eastern Transvaal was vividly demonstrated by the experience of a group of South African Natives' National Congress fund-raisers who visited the area in connection with the sending of a deputation to Europe. Swazi chiefs in the eastern Transvaal told them that nothing could be given without the consent of the Queen Regent. She told them that they could collect in the Transvaal but that all funds raised should be brought to her for allocation as she too was planning to send a deputation. When the President of the Congress, S.M. Makgato, sought to use official channels to claim the resulting £500, the Queen's Secretary informed the Resident Commissioner that the Swazi of the Transvaal had only agreed to contribute for the Swazi deputation.[43] When Sobhuza had his first ncwala in 1921, it was reported that many Swazi from outside Swaziland attended. Before he left on his long-planned deputation to London in 1922 he paid a visit to the Mjindini royal villages in the Transvaal at Barberton to say farewell and thank you.[44]

In the years following World War I, the position of the Swazi in the eastern Transvaal deteriorated seriously. Even before the war, pressure on squatters on the highveld had begun to increase as a result of the subdivision of farms and the increase of commercial farming. Chiefs with their retainers and often large herds of stock were especially vulnerable. Early in 1914 the Mbhuleni royal village had set off on the first of a long series of migrations. It was to move five times by 1949.[45] After the war similar pressures began increasingly to be felt in the Barberton


district as a result of the sale or lease of land to new settlers. These pressures resulted not only in frequent evictions, but also in a deterioration in the terms which squatters could obtain from the landlord. Many squatters were forced to become labour tenants, and many labour tenants had to become full-time servants at a minimal wage.[46]

These economic pressures were accompanied and intensified by a barrage of legislation intended to reduce the rural population to serfdom. The poll tax was doubled in 1925 and amendments to the pass laws in 1929 and 1930 increased the immobility of farm labour. The Native Service Contract Act which was finally passed in 1932, despite the opposition of the mining lobby, provided for the licensing of squatters and labour tenants, for the tying of whole families to labour service, for whipping in the case of breach of contract, and for summary eviction. The act, which could not be totally enforced, aimed to redistribute labour within the farming sector while the pass laws blocked lines of escape to the towns.[47]

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