Swaziland is a small mountainous kingdom in North Eastern South Africa on the border with Mozambique. It is notable for having the highest rate of HIV-AIDs infection in the world, and for maintaining a political system accountable to an unelected monarch.
Swaziland gained its independence from Britain in 1968 under King Sobhuza. In 1973 – due to a strong showing by the opposition Ngwane National Liberatory Congress party in national elections – Sobhuza repealed the independence constitution and dissolved parliament. In January 1979, a new parliament was finally convened, chosen partly through indirect elections and partly through direct appointment by the king. Sobhuza died in 1982 leading to a period of royal intrigues with successive regents taking power until crown Prince Makhosetive Dlamini had completed his education at Sherbourne School – an exclusive British establishment – and was crowned Mswati III aged just 18 years and 6 days.
In 1982, South Africa and Swaziland secretly signed a security agreement. Under pressure from South Africa, Swaziland arrested and deported members of the African National Congress, the leading black nationalist group in South Africa. On three different occasions in late 1985 and 1986, South African commando squads conducted raids in Swaziland, killing a number of ANC members and supporters.
Mswati III is now Africa’s last absolute monarch in the sense that he has the power to choose his Prime Minister and other top government posts. In 2004, Mswati promulgated a new constitution that allows freedom of speech and assembly for the media and public.
In an attempt to mitigate the HIV and AIDS pandemic in 2001, the king used his traditional powers to invoke a time-honoured chastity rite (umcwasho), which encouraged all Swazi maidens to abstain from sexual relations for five years. This rite banned sexual relations for Swazis under 50 years of age from 9 September 2001 and 19 August 2005 , but just two months after imposing the ban, he violated this decree when he married a 17-year-old girl, who became his 13th wife.