Swazi - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Swazi homesteads focus on subsistence agricultural activities—primarily the cultivation of maize, sorghum, beans, groundnuts, and sweet potatoes. Maize had been essentially unknown until the mid-nineteenth century, at which time it was introduced and gradually replaced sorghum as the staple crop. Despite the importance of agriculture to the homestead economy, cattle are the basis of wealth and status. Swazi have the "cattle complex" typical of many eastern African tribes: cattle provide for individual food and clothing needs as well as serving wider economic and ritual purposes.

Industrial Arts. Smithing, a hereditary occupation for men that requires long apprenticeship, is surrounded by taboos. It was, at one time, the most exacting and remunerative of the industrial arts. The iron hoes, knives, and various kinds of spears (weapons of war) produced by smiths were in great demand. The smithy was built at a distance from the homestead and put off limits to women. In the past, the Swazi also had specialists in copper and brass. Today wood carving is important but is mainly limited to functional objects, such as meat dishes and spoons. Wood carvers are not required to enter a restricted apprenticeship and do not receive the status accorded healers, or even smiths. Pottery making lies within the domain of women, who, using the coil technique, produce different sizes and shapes of drinking and cooking vessels. Swazi specialists do not have at their disposal markets comparable to those found in West Africa.

Trade. Swaziland's main export crop is sugar, based on irrigated cane. Several other cash crops, including maize, rice, vegetables, cotton, tobacco, citrus fruits, and pineapples, are traded both within and outside the country. Its mineral wealth, which consists of iron ore, coal, diamonds, and asbestos, is mined for export. Meat and meat products are also exported. The industrial estate at Matsapha produces processed agricultural and forestry products, garments, textiles, and many light manufactures. The main imports are motor vehicles, heavy machinery, fuel and lubricants, foodstuffs, and clothing.

Division of Labor. Swazi division of labor proceeds according to sex, age, and pedigree. Most men know how to construct house frames and cattle kraals, plow, tend and milk cattle, sew skins, and cut shields. Some men are (or were in the past) particularly accomplished at warfare, animal husbandry, hunting, and governing. Most women know how to hoe, tend small livestock, thatch, plait ropes, weave mats/baskets, grind grain, brew beer, cook foods, and care for children; some women specialize in pot- and mat making. Age determines who will perform tasks associated with ritual performances. Rank determines who will summon people for work parties in district and national enterprises and who will supervise the workers. Work parties, sometimes consisting of hundreds or thousands of workers, compete in separate groups of men and women and receive customary rewards of thanks from the host according to rank, age, sex, and locality.

Land Tenure. Land-access rights in Swazi areas (as opposed to freehold areas established by the colonial land partition of 1907) are held by the community as a whole, and the king, representing the entire Swazi nation, is responsible for its allotment to chiefs. The chiefs, in their turn, distribute land to homestead heads. Swazi citizens can pledge allegiance to a chief and rulers and thereby obtain rights to land according to four acquisition methods: kukhonta (direct grant by the chief), kubekwa (direct grant by another individual), inheritance, and kuboleka umhlaba (being "lent" land by another individual). Rose (1992) has maintained that land disputes commonly center around problems of use rights, boundaries, cattle trespass, inheritance, natural-resource ownership and management, or chiefly legitimacy and territorial jurisdiction. In the late twentieth century land disputes have intensified or become more frequent, as populations have expanded or migrated toward employment centers. New varieties of disputes, often in association with development projects (e.g., construction of buildings, roads, or dams) have arisen.


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