Sobhuza II

Sobhuza II was paramount Chief of the Swazi from 1921 and king of Swaziland from 1967 (until his death in 1982). His reign is the longest for any recorded modern African ruler (there are a couple of ancient Egyptians who, it is claimed, ruled for longer). During his period of rule, Sobhuza II saw Swaziland gain independence from Britain.

  • Date of birth: 22 July 1899
  • Date of death: 21 August 1982, Lobzilla Palace near Mbabane, Swaziland

An Early Life

Sobhuza's father, King Ngwane V died in February 1899, at the age of 23, during the yearly incwala (First Fruit) ceremony. Sobhuza, who was born later that year, was named as heir on 10 September 1899 under the regency of his grandmother, Labotsibeni Gwamile Mdluli. Sobhuza's grandmother had a new national school built in order that he obtain the best possible education. He finished school with two years at the Lovedale Institute in Cape Province, South Africa.

In 1903 Swaziland became a British protectorate, and in 1906 administration was transferred to a British High Commissioner, who took responsibility for Basutoland, Bechuanaland, and Swaziland. In 1907 the Partitions Proclamation ceded vast tracts of land to European settlers; this was to prove a challenge for Sobhuza's reign.

Paramount Chief of the Swazi

Sobhuza II was installed to the throne, as paramount chief of the Swazi (the British did not consider him a king at that time) on 22 December 1921. He immediately petitioned to have the Partitions Proclamation overturned. He traveled for this reason to London in 1922 but was unsuccessful in his attempt. It was not until the outbreak of World War II that he achieved a breakthrough -- obtaining a promise that Britain would buy back the land from settlers and restore it to the Swazi in exchange for Swazi support in the war. Towards the end of the war, Sobhuza II was declared the 'native authority' within Swaziland, giving him an unprecedented level of power in a British colony. He was still under the aegis of the British High Commissioner though.

After the war, a decision had to be made about the three High Commission Territories in southern Africa. Since the Union of South Africa, in 1910, there had been a plan to incorporate the three regions into the Union. But the SA government had become increasingly polarized and power was held by a minority white government. When the National Party took power in 1948, campaigning on an ideology of Apartheid, the British government realized that they could not hand over the High Commission territories to South Africa.

The 1960s saw the beginnings of independence in Africa, and in Swaziland, several new associations and parties formed, eager to have their say about the nation's path to freedom from British rule. Two commissions were held in London with representatives of the European Advisory Council (EAC), a body which represented the rights of white settlers in Swaziland to the British High Commissioner, the Swazi National Council (SNC) which advised Sobhuza II on traditional tribal matters, the Swaziland Progressive Party (SPP) which represented the educated elite who felt alienated by traditional tribal rule, and the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) who wanted a democracy with a constitutional monarchy.

Constitutional Monarch

In 1964, feeling that he, and his extended, ruling Dlamini family, were not getting enough attention (they wanted to maintain their hold over the traditional government in Swaziland after independence), Sobhuza II oversaw the creation of the royalist Imbokodvo National Movement (INM). The INM was successful in pre-independence elections, winning all 24 seats in the legislature (with the backing of the white settler United Swaziland Association).

In 1967, in the final run-up to independence, Sobhuza II was recognized by the British as a constitutional monarchy. When independence was finally achieved on 6 September 1968, Sobhuza II was king and Prince Makhosini Dlamini was the country's first Prime Minister. The transition to independence was smooth, with Sobhuza II announcing that since they were late coming to their sovereignty, they had the opportunity to observe the problems encountered elsewhere in Africa.

From the beginning Sobhuza II meddled in the governance of the country, insisting oversight on all aspects of the legislature and judiciary. He promulgated government with a 'Swazi flavor', insisting that parliament was a consultative body of elders. It helped that his royalist party, the INM, controlled government. He was also slowly equipping a private army.

Absolute Monarch

In April 1973 Sobhuza II abrogated the constitution and disbanded parliament, becoming an absolute monarch of the kingdom and ruling through a national council which he appointed. Democracy, he claimed, was 'un-Swazi'.

In 1977 Sobhuza II set up a traditional tribal advisory panel; the Supreme Council of State, or Liqoqo. The Liqoqo was made up of members of the extended royal family, the Dlamini, who were previously members of the Swaziland National Council. He also set up a new tribal community system, the tinkhulda, which provided 'elected' representatives to a House of Assembly.

Man of the People
The Swazi people accepted Sobhuza II with great affection, he regularly appeared in traditional Swazi leopard-skin loincloth and feathers, oversaw traditional festivities and rituals, and practiced traditional medicine.

Sobhuza II maintained tight control on Swaziland politics by marrying into notable Swazi families. He was a strong proponent of polygamy. Records are unclear, but it is believed that he took more than 70 wives and had somewhere between 67 and 210 children. (It is estimated that at his death, Sobhuza II had around 1000 grandchildren). His own clan, the Dlamini, accounts for almost one-quarter of the population of Swaziland.

Throughout his reign, he worked to reclaim lands granted to white settlers by his predecessors. This included an attempt in 1982 to claim the South African Bantustan of KaNgwane. (KaNgwane was the semi-independent homeland which had been created in 1981 for the Swazi population living in South Africa.) KaNgwane would have given Swaziland its own, much needed, access to the sea.

International Relations

Sobhuza II maintained good relations with his neighbors, especially Mozambique, through which it was able to access the sea and trade routes. But it was a careful balancing act, with Marxist Mozambique on one side and Apartheid South Africa on the other. It was revealed after his death that Sobhuza II had signed secret security agreements with the Apartheid government in South Africa, giving them the opportunity to pursue the ANC camped in Swaziland.

Under Sobhuza II's leadership, Swaziland developed its natural resources, creating the largest man-made commercial forest in Africa, and expanding iron and asbestos mining to become a leading exporter in the 70s.

Death of a King

Prior to his death, Sobhuza II appointed Prince Sozisa Dlamini to act as the chief advisor to the Regent, the Queen Mother Dzeliwe Shongwe. The regent was to act on behalf of the 14-year-old heir, Prince Makhosetive. After Sobhuza II's death on 21 August 1982, a power struggle erupted between Dzeliwe Shongwe and Sozisa Dlamini. Dzeliwe was ousted from the position, and after acting as regent for a month and a half, Sozisa appointed Prince Makhosetive's mother, Queen Ntombi Thwala to be the new regent. Prince Makhosetive was crowned king, as Mswati III, on 25 April 1986.

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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Sobhuza II." ThoughtCo, Jan. 28, 2020, Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2020, January 28). Sobhuza II. Retrieved from Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Sobhuza II." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).