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To appreciate women’s status and condition, and the nature of their struggle, it is therefore essential that we understand the social and cultural context in which Swazi women contest gender relations and struggle against ideology as an instrument of power. This background affords us an opportunity to appreciate women’s progress and the constraints encountered against the historical and cultural milieu within which gender is constructed and contested. In the Swazi social setting, it is a context characterised by a network of social relationships, cultural values and specific cultural attitudes, deeply entrenched social practices and gaps in social policy (Somjee, 1989: ix).
Our key to the social and cultural context is the family, and the position of women within it. The basic assumption here is that the family is the basic unit of social organisation, an agent of social and cultural reproduction of appropriate gender roles, and that it is within the family that women are most vulnerable. It is within the family that social construction of « womanhood » is engineered and perpetuated, a process in which women become unwilling partners for no woman has been willing to critique culture. However, the family operates within a cultural context; hence the contents ofthis chapter.


The establishment of the Swazi kingdom goes back to the early eighteenth century. It was during the Mfecane (‘time of crushing’) era when new nations were forged out of old societies uprooted during the Zulu wars of expansion (Booth, 1983:8). The kingdom that came to be called Swaziland was founded by the Dlamini clan who had migrated from the present day Mozambique. The Dlamini was a Nguni clan and was led by leaders like Ngwane who became the first king of what was then KaNgwane, and later his grandson (Sobhuza I), who is popularly known as Somhlolo. The Dlamini group conquered and incorporated some of the autonomous.
clans that previously lived in the land. These autonomous clans were mainly of the Sotho and Zulu origins (Ndlovu, 1993:5), and are referred to as Emakhandzambili (those found ahead).
Through conquest and integration, there evolved in Swaziland a distinct political system that was characterised by a dual monarchy, in which the King and his mother rule together.
However, as Hilda Kuper (1980: 13) has shown, the idea of dual monarchy was not a result of the king’ s benevolence. On the contrary, it was the fruition of the Queen mother’s innovation. It was during the wars of conquest, which were executed with ruthlessness by Ngwane’s successors (Ndvungunya and Sobhuza I) that Sobhuza’s mother, Somnjalose ofthe Simelane clan, intervened to restrain her son from the excesses of plundering and through her intervention  » won for the mother of the Dlamini ruler a special place in ritual and government » (Kuper, 1980:13). Hence, the origins ofthe institutional role ofthe Queen mother and dual monarchy.
Under King Mswati II (1839-1865), the kingdom was consolidated and firmly established.
One of the greatest Swazi warrior kings, Mswati consolidated what kings before him had conquered and added more territory. More clans were incorporated through persuasion and coercion. And it was during Mswati’s reign that social differentiation crystallised into two main classes, the aristocrats and commoners, and this social distinction was maintained largely through centralised distribution of land, tribute labour, arranged marriages, and the claim of ritual supremacy (Bonner, 1980:89-91).
These social achievements provided an enhanced basis for royal authority. As Booth ( 1983: 10)
puts it:
Mswati achieved this basis by recasting the Swazi society and by instituting new measures that both practically and ritually centralised his authority and strengthened the Dlamini legitimacy.
Mswati’s reign therefore saw the most pronounced changes in Swazi class formation and use of class as a basis for reproduction of the monarchy.
Broadly speaking the Swazi, according to the ideology of the dominant group, fall into three categories. There are those who claim to be the true Swazi (Bamdzabuko ), those found ahead (Emkhandzambili) and those who came later (Abafik’emuva). The true Swazi are paradoxically not the original inhabitants of the land but the Dlamini conquerors, the followers ofNgwane, who settled temporarily at Eshiselweni (literally meaning ‘the burning place’ which refers to their method of forceful incorporation). This group included thirty-one clans. The dominant clans in this group being the Dlamini, Magongo, Ginindza and Mabuza, who according to various interpretations were one clan that eventually split for strategic reasons. The other clan that is politically significant is the Mamba clan, which is often referred to as « a kingdom within a kingdom » (M. Mamba: Oral Interview, 12 February, 1996) and is the only clan, besides the Dlarnini royal clan, that is allowed to perform their own Incwala (ritual of kingship). ChiefMaja of the Mamba clan is therefore addressed as Inkhosi (meaning ‘king’) and saluted with « Bayethe », an honour only reserved for a king. There is a mythical belief that the Mamba clan was denied kingship through a secret plan abetted by elders who had required both the Dlamini and Mamba families to kill and skin a cow with bare hands. Secretly, however, the Dlamini group was given a knife to speed up the slaughter and were predictably the first (M. Mamba, Oral Interview, Kwaluseni, 12 February 1996). So they became the ruling house. However mythological the explanation, it shows the significance of the Mamba clan and yet at the same time it legitimates the Dlarnini dynasty of rulers. Apart from the Mamba’s right to celebrate their own Incwala, due to their unique social standing, ChiefMaja (The Times of Swaziland: 21 April 1995) is on record to have recently demanded:
security as powerful as that of the king because in terms of customary law and tradition, he is second in command to the Ngwenyama, King Mswati III.
Those found ahead (Emakhandzambili) include the Gama, Magagula, Maziya, Maseko, Mnisi, Maphosa, Shabalala, Gwebu, Shabangu and Kubonye clans. Due to their lack of military organisation and strength to resist the Dlamini rulers, they accepted incorporation and thereby retained their identity, and paid tribute to the Dlamini feudal lords (Kuper, 1980:13). In return they were promised the benefit of having their own hereditary chiefs as long as they were loyal to the Dlamini house. As H. Kuper (Ibid: 15) puts it:
The Dlarnini emphasised the sanctity and power of chieftainship, and as long as a chief or his heir survived, the Dlamini rulers acknowledged him as the foundation on which the conquered group could be built.
Those that resisted peaceful incorporation were plundered and defeated. Their « men were slain and the women and children were assimilated by marriage and adoption » (Kuper, 1980: 14).
The third group are « those who came later » (Ebafik ‘Emuva), and include thirty-five clans of the Sotho, Nguni and Tonga origins. Such clans as the Nkambule, Hlatshwayo, Dladla, Masuku, Nxumalo and Vilakati belong to this group. It is the Nguni stock however who are the largest, with no less than twenty-three clans. Kuper describes this group as tinkhondzi (lieges) or vassals.
This kind of categorisation of the Swazi, on basis of when they entered the country or the place (in or outside the kingdom) at its formation, only shows the emergence of the Dlamini as the ruling and dominant group with all the privileges and power. In course of time, the ideology of the dominant clan seems to have been accepted as the dominant ideology and the Dlamini became the divine rulers of the country, with extensive control over national ritual and resources.
They had, and still have, special ritual duties to perform ostensibly to enhance the power of the ruling household.
A similar social stratification has obtained at production relational levels leading to class-foundation. As H.S. Simelane (1992:28) explains:
The highest strata of this class was the royal family, made up of the King, Queen mother, their children, and the descendants of various past Swazi kings. The royal family is not directly involved in the process of production, but exists largely through expropriation of surplus from the peasantry in form of material tribute and labour. .. Below the royal family is found all Chiefs, their indvunas and the other functionaries. Presently there are over 200 chiefs heading different constituencies. Although chiefs are hereditary traditional administrators, they are formally appointed by the King. Chiefs are enforcers of the will of the monarchy in rural areas; they are the extension of the authority of the King and, therefore, legitimatise their presence through upholding royal traditions and values.
Quite apart from these classes, and clans, there is a social, political power structure in which the Dlarnini play the leading role. At the head of the political hierarchy is the Ngwenyama, the King, who is the official head of state. He is the « symbol of corporate unity of the Swazi » (Marwick, 1966:5). The nation revolves around him.
He controlled the army, was the supreme judge, disbursed wealth, and possessed ritual. All officials were dependent on him for their positions: princes, chiefs and councillors emphasised his power. At the same time, they were in position to stop him from abusing his privileges. His mother in particular acted as a check, and on occasions, as leader of the opposition (Hilda Kuper 1980: 17).
The king inherits his position, a position of unique privilege and authority, for he represents the line of the nation’s patriarchs, the past kings, who are remembered in the national ritual as spiritual ancestors and guardians. Not only is the king therefore a link to the past, he is also the spiritual link, the priest and mediator between the people and the national ancestors. His significance in ritual hierarchy is illustrated in the annual festival of Incwala in which he is strengthened, and he together with the Queen Mother make petition and offering to the nation’s ancestors, and ‘make’ rain that fertilises the land. In a symbolic way, not only does the monarchy control land, it also controls its fertility through rain-making; hence the centralisation ofland and national ritual.
It is common to hear people say that the King and Queen Mother are twin-rulers of the kingdom. In practice however, the King remains primus inter pares, the first among equals. Thus the Queen Mother becomes the second highest person in the land. She is most importantly regarded as the mother of the nation and the custodian of the sacred, ritual objects. She receives preferential treatment above the others, and « speaks to the dead in the shrine hut of the capital and provides beer for libation » (Kuper, 1980:55). However, there is clear spatial separation of spheres: the King’s and Queen mother’s villages – are distinct. Lobamba is the national capital, the Queen mother’s village and focus of national ritual celebrations, including two main culture- religious events, namely the !newala and the Reed Dance ( Umhlanga). It is distinct from the King’s modem, multi-storeyed palace at Lozitha. Ideally, each king is supposed to establish his own village and King Mswati III has a palace in Mbabane, the administrative capital, but this is far from the Queen mother’s village at Lobamba, where there is also the parliament and House of Senate. It is therefore for convenience that the present King chose Lozitha as his village due to its proximity to Lobamba and its centrality as opposed to Mbabane which is away from the country’s centre, near the border with the Republic of South Mrica.
Next to the Ngwenyama, the King, comes the Queen Mother, the Ndlovukati (She-elephant). She is the mother of the King and the nation; her son is the child of the people.
The concept of dual monarchy means that they both enjoy unique positions and privileges and are regarded, at least at the present, as the only two persons in the Kingdom that are above law. They have political and social power sanctioned by law, ritual and tradition, and are vested with unique authority. They are the focus of national existence and are, in varying degrees, active in national events. They are the highest court of appeal in the land as the practice of Kwembula ingubo (to hide in his/her majesty’s blanket) illustrates. For instance, a person can escape the King’s sentence
by fleeing to the Queen Mother. At family level, the grandmother’s hut is also a place of refuge.
It is however the King who summons the nation to national meetings (libandla), which every adult male Swazi is free to attend; both of them may allocate land, disburse wealth, preside over important national events, and take precedence in ritual (Kuper, 1980:55). Until the reign ofBhunu, the monarchy exercised absolute power, including the power oflife and death over his subjects but things have since then changed due to the introduction of British overrule and the residency of the British Commissioner, in 1907. The Commissioner assumed the powers of appellate in the land, and decisions of the Swazi national leaders and courts were subordinate to him. Thus, a new layer, in form of colonial administration, tempered the authority of the Swazi monarchy to the extent that the King became a Paramount Chief (Genge, 1999:244,249).
However, through the King’s Proclamation in 1973, the monarchy has since then regained the traditional absolute power, and can banish persons considered dangerous to the state into exile.
Even Chiefs can expel unwanted subjects, usually men, who then have to look for refuge in another chiefdom, a rather common form of punishment for any form of dissidence. Thus, in the modern nation-state, the King still holds power, including the prerogative of mercy in crucial cases (including capital punishment), and has increasingly been appealed to in several disputes, between labour unions and government, students and university administration, chief and chief, as final arbiter. In brief, the powers and functions of the monarchy are extensive and all pervasive in the lives of the people. Once the King speaks, the matter is closed for his is « the mouth that never lies ».
Next to the King and Queen mother, in a descending order, are the princes and princesses.
The Bantjwabenkosi (children of the King). They are the aristocrats who derive their status through the hereditary line of kings. They possess royal blood, and are accorded respect in accordance with their proximity to the centre, the ruling line. The King under normal circumstances relies on the support of his close relatives, especially the uncles, half-brothers and senior princes and princesses. The senior princes , in effect, form part of the King’s counsellors, and mentors. In contrast, commoners are appointed to the King’s council mostly on basis of their distinction in their disciplines and often by proximity to one of the royal family members.
The most common practice has been to give princes power over local administrative units, including chieftaincies. Sons of the most senior queens receive principalities as their birth-right (Kuper, 1980:57), and also to perpetuate the Dlamini political and economic control of the country. For instance, Kuper noted that in 1980, of the 169 chiefstainships, the Dlamini occupied 7 5. Chieftainships are hereditary, and so pass from father to son ; thus keeping the traditional political and civil power within the Dlarnini royal household. Nonetheless, we have already noted that clans that were formed ahead and were peacefully incorporated still retain their own line of chiefs. When there are disputes over chieftaincy, and there have been several cases in the 1990s, the rival claimants often appeal to and send deputations to the King for the final decision. For instance, in 1992, there was a dispute over Ko-Ntshingila chieftaincy, in Shiselweni district. Because the brothers were still minors, Gelani Zwane (laSimelane) became the only female chief in the country, and immediately there were male-inspired challenges to her authority which led to the death of five ofher subjects. To date, she still holds the fort and there has been no decisive solution to the rivalry due to the slow wheels of the decision-making process (The Times of Swaziland: 18 July 1993).
Besides the princes and chiefs, there are the tinsila (peacemakers) who mediate in disputes with the authorisation of the King. They try to promote peace and harmony between conflicting sections of society, and their office goes back to King Sobhuza I, although during his time they were mainly associated with the annual ritual of kingship, Incwala. The monarchy also counts on the services of tindvuna (councillors) of the royal villages, who are in essence the King’s representatives in those areas for royal villages are spread all over the country. As a rule Indvuna ye tinkundla (the Governor of the royal court at Ludzidzini) is chosen from a clan other than that of the Dlamini.
In addition to these differentiated classes of political elite, the King has a royal council, which includes first of all the King himself and the Queen Mother. The council serves the purpose of being advisors. It is like a family council whose aim is to ensure smooth and effective governance of the nation. Finally, there is the Libandla (the national parliament). Libandla includes all chiefs, leading counsellors, princes, cabinet ministers, headmen, and any Swazi adult male who wishes to attend. Every adult male Swazi is potentially a member of the Libandla. In recent times, King Mswati III has called the nation to the Ludzidzini kraal, the traditional seat of power to make important announcements of national magnitude, like the appointment of a Prime Minister (which seems to be always to the libandla rather than to parliament and Senate) or to announce national initiatives on issues like economic policies and more recently the Constitutional Reform. Usually the King announces the committee to vusela the country gathering views.
Vusela literally means « to visit », and so the committee members go around the country (on the king’ s behalf) to listen to the people. Occasionally, the libandla becomes a national parliament where adult male Swazi are given the opportunity to speak freely on matters of national interest, although previous experience suggests that their views do not have to be included in the final report. Moreover, who speaks at libandla can always be influenced by the presiding elder or prince, as was the case in 1996 when a young prince (King Mswati III’s son), 5 years old was chosen to speak against multi-party politics while adults with known political views were deliberately not invited to contribute to the debate although they were present.

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1. 1 Introduction
1.2 Statement of the Problem
1.3 Purpose ofthe Study
1.4 Theoretical Framework
1.5 Methodology
1. 6 Literature Review
1. 7 Significance of the Study
1. 8 Limitations
1.9 Definition of Terms
1. 1 0 Outline of Chapters
2.1 Historical Background
2.2 Colonial Era
2.3 Culture
2.3.1 Incwala
2.3.2 Umhlanga
2.4 The Family
2.5 Conclusion
3.1 Lomkhubulwane
3.2 Women in Religious Ritual
3.2.1 NationalRitual
3.2.2 Family Ritual
3.2.3 Healing
3.3 Conclusion
4.1 Colonial Patriarchy
4.2 Monarchy
4. 3 Family and Marriage
4.4 Bridewealth
4. 5 Conclusion
5.1 The Struggle of the Queens
5.2 The « Mi ss1. ng w omen »
5.3 Christian Missions
6.1 Lutsango lwakaNgwane
6.2 Council of Swaziland Churches
6.2.1 Origins
6.2.2 Women and Development
6.2.3 New Developments
6.3 Women’s Resource Centre
6.3.1 Social Advocacy and Gender Sensitization
6.4 Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse
6.5 The Lone Struggler
6.6 Conclusion
7.1 Continuity and Change
7.2 The Ambivalent Role ofReligion
8.1 Moments in Swazi Women’s Search for Equality
8.2 Women’s Empowerment
8.3 Social Advocacy
8. 4 Ritual Leadership
8.5 In Search of a Model
8.6 The Way Ahead

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