Swazi - Orientation

Identification. "Swazi" refers to the nation, tribe, or ethnic group, or an individual, "siSwati" to the language. SiSwati speakers are found in Swaziland, South Africa, and Mozambique.

Location. The Swazi reside in Swaziland, a small, landlocked country of 17,363 square kilometers, which is perched on the edge of the southern African escarpment. It is bounded on three sides by South Africa and on the fourth by Mozambique, both countries in which many ethnic Swazis reside. Four distinctive topographic steps largely determine the characteristics of Swaziland's natural environment: the high veld, averaging 1,219 meters in elevation, with forests and grassy hills; the middle veld, averaging 610 meters in elevation, with hills and palatable grasses suited for livestock and rich soils good for agriculture; the low veld, averaging 274 meters in elevation, with tall grasses suited for grazing but usually not for dry-land agriculture; and the Lubombo mountain range, a narrow plateau averaging about 610 meters in elevation, with a warm, subhumid climate and basaltic soils suited for arable agriculture. Several rivers—the Mbeluzi, Ngwavuma, Great Usutu, Komati, and Lomati—cut through the high veld, middle veld, and Lubombo Mountains.

Demography. Swazi identity is based on allegiance to a dual monarchy, headed by a hereditary king, titled by his people ingwenyama (lion), and a queen mother, indlovukati (Lady Elephant). Ethnic Swazis living in the Republic of South Africa and in Mozambique are not under their effective political control, however. Within Swaziland, the population (the great majority of which is Swazi) was estimated at 860,000 in 1992, with an annual growth rate of about 3.4 percent. Most Swazis live in rural homesteads, but, in the middle veld, where nearly one-half of the Swazi population resides, rural homesteads are interspersed with densely populated settlements around employment centers. The two major cities are Mbabane and Manzini.

Linguistic Affiliation. SiSwati is a tonal Bantu language of the Nguni Group, closely related to Zulu and, more distantly, to Xhosa. It is spoken in Swaziland and in the Eastern Transvaal Province of the Republic of South Africa. Little has been published in siSwati.

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