Mswati II (1820-1868), proclaimed king of the Swazi at the age of 16, has been described as “the greatest of the Swazi fighting kings.” He succeeded in building a Swazi nation, and the people of Swaziland take their name from him. It was Mswati II who invited missionaries to come and teach the word of God to his people, which signaled the beginning of Christianity in Swaziland.
When Sobhuza I, Mswati’s predecessor, died in 1836, his senior son, Malambule, acted as regent. Mswati’s mother Thandile was the Queen Mother (Indlovukazi), with her royal residence at Ludzidzini. In 1840 Mswati’s minority ended and Malambule handed the reins of government to him. Before Sobhuza I died he had advised his people to take up the teaching of the umculu (bible). Mswati, accepting this advice, sent two messengers to invite missionaries to come and teach the bible to his people. In a conference held at Grahamstown (in the Cape), Mswati’s request was granted and Rev. James Allison and Rev. Richard Giddy, together with two Basotho evangelists, Job and Barnabas, were sent to Swaziland.
When Malambule handed the throne to Mswati, he hid some of the royal cattle and conspired with his brother Fokotsi to commit an act tantamount to treason. Fokotsi had received from Malambule a principality near Mahamba area. After being forced to return the cattle by Mswati, Malambule, Fokotsi and Ndlela, all brothers, fled and sought refuge among the Kunene people. Mswati then sent his regiments to attack the Kunene clan for having offered refuge to these offenders. On seeing Mswati’s regiments, the people ran to the missionaries to ask for protection. The regiments launched their attack and killed many people, but did not touch the missionaries, for they had been sternly warned by Mswati not to do so. Nonetheless, the attack on the local people scared the missionaries, who were unsure of Mswati’s intentions, and they ran away to Natal.
Mswati’s reign was marked by his effort at reorganization of the Swazi armies, his use of those armies to enlarge Swazi wealth and territory, and his attempts at creating alliances with both the Boers and the British as a means of staving off the Zulu and maintaining Swazi independence.
In reorganizing the armies he utilized a Zulu method, moving from clan-based to age-based regiments. These age-regiments, or impis, were to be housed in royal military villages. Turning his conquering eye away from the Zulu south, Mswati looked to the west and the north, raiding as far afield as present day southern Zimbabwe. Other attacks focused on the Pulana, Lobedu and Pedi in the northeast Transvaal, and the Delagoa Bay area in present day Mozambique. Yet he was a successful nation builder for his tolerance as much as for his military prowess. Mswati provided shelter to many Sotho and Ngoni people. He tolerated both their chiefs and their customs.
Mswati executed three treaties with the Boers during his life, in 1840 (with the Natal Volksraad), 1846 (with the Ohrigstad Volksraad), and in 1855 (with the Transvaal). These treaties involved some cession of Swazi land in the Lydenburg area. Mswati has hoped to forge an alliance with Shepstone, but received no British aid against the Zulu. Still, during his reign, Mswati succeeded in building one of the most powerful, unified states in the whole of Southern Africa.
Mswati died at his royal residence at Hhohho in July 1868, and his remains were laid to rest on the royal burial hill at Mbilaneni. He had succeeded in building up a Swazi nation; hence today the people of Swaziland have been named after him: the Swati (“people of Mswati”). His death ended an era of Swazi conquest, expansion and the bringing together of diverse peoples into one nation.
Thabisile D. Mkatshwa
Philip Bonner, A Study in the Relationship of Foreign Affairs to Internal Political Development in Swaziland, London University Press, 1977; Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, Dictionary of African Historical Biography, London: Heinemann, 1978; J .S.M. Matsebula, A History of Swaziland, Longman, Cape Town, 1972; Neil Parsons, A New History of Southern Africa, MacMillan, London, 1982.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Three: South Africa- Botswana-Lesotho-Swaziland. Ed. Keith Irvine. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.