Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, is a small landlocked kingdom in Southern Africa is bordered by both South Africa and Mozambique. It is one of Africa’s smallest countries, little more than half the size of Belgium, and has a population of just under 1.3 million people.
The country has a very young population, with more than one-third under the age of 15 and almost another one-third between 15 and 29 years of age. It has a high poverty rate and low GDP growth, at -3.3%. The official languages of Eswatini are Siswati, which is akin to Zulu, and English.
The Kingdom of Eswatini was long known as Swaziland during the colonial era under British rule and later as an independent country from 1968. Then, in 2018 King Mswati III announced that he was changing the official name of the country from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Kingdom of Eswatini.
The country’s capital is Mbabane where the central government sits. The King sits at Ludzidzini Royal Residence which is at Lobamba. Lobamba is also where the Houses of Parliament and other national institutions are located.
Natural resources and tourism
Eswatini has valuable mineral resources, including diamonds, coal, and gold, and diamonds are its second largest mineral export after asbestos. The country is known for its game reserves – the Mlilwane Nature Reserve, the Mbuluzi Game Reserve, the Mkhaya Game Reserves, the Malolotja Game Reserve, the Mlawula Nature Reserve and the Hlane Royal National Park – with diverse wildlife including lions, hippos, elephants and giraffes.
The country’s largest agro industry is the cultivation of sugarcane and the manufacture of sugar. Unbleached wood pulp is the country’s second largest export after sugar. Manmade forests of pine and eucalyptus supply timber to a wood pulp mill and several sawmills. Other crops include citrus fruits, pineapples, rice, tobacco, vegetables, and cotton.
Tourism is a major sector of the Eswatini economy. Hotels and casinos are situated about seven miles from Mbabane in a beautiful town called Ezulwini and there are other Hotels at Piggs Peak in the north and at Nhlangano in the south. Handmade textiles and tapestries and stone and wooden handicrafts are among the tourist attractions.
Eswatini has its own currency, the Lilangeni, but it is also a member of the Southern African monetary union, which helps to ensure that currencies are on a par and that funds move fluidly between the member countries.
It has a good national road infrastructure that extends to neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique. And its railway provides links to the South African rail network in both the north and the south of the country and even to Mozambique.
Opportunities and challenges
Derrick Ndo Jele, Partner at LEX Africa member firm, Robinson Bertram, says the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are still being felt in Eswatini. “Clients have lost their businesses and our revenue has decreased.
“Some clients are now prioritising alternative dispute resolution forums as opposed to litigation and that is a loss of business to us.”
He says this may be due to the current civil unrest in Eswatini, and the loss of trust in the independence of the Judiciary. “There has been civil unrest in Eswatini since May 2021, which continues to brew in the absence of dialogue between the political parties and the Monarchy.”
Jele says his firm also lost four of its professionals late last year and had to hire new clerks and “impact its work culture in them” rather than hire new professionals.
Eswatini relies on South Africa’s power utility Eskom for energy, based on an agreement that is coming to an end this year. While Eskom is struggling to satisfy the energy needs of its own domestic market, Eswatini has never suffered from load shedding due to the terms of its current agreement with the utility, says Jele.
He says the South African government is under pressure from political parties not to renew the agreement. They are saying that South Africans are affected by load shedding, yet it is their power that is being used in Eswatini, which is not a democratic nation, says Jele.
“There is a niche in the energy sector for investors. We have coal in Eswatini and a relatively suitable climate for solar energy.” The prevailing global conditions of Covid-19, the Russia – Ukraine conflict, and civil unrest in Eswatini are negatively impacting investor sentiment, says Jele.
To address the civil unrest in Eswatini the monarchy needs to urgently engage with the political parties that are calling for democratic reforms, he says.
Laws and judgments
On the legislation front, Jele says, “There are recent judgments in our jurisdiction that have changed the legislative landscape in relation to labour matters.”
The Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the country, in the case of Cashbuild Swaziland (Pty) Ltd v Magagula, held that the Industrial Court and the Industrial Court of Appeal are specialist courts which should not be reviewed by the High Court and the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court struck down 19 (5) of the Industrial Relations Act, which allows an aggrieved litigant to approach the High Court on review if dissatisfied with a decision of the Industrial Court. “The judgment has limited legal recourse and the Supreme Court has since been petitioned to reconsider the implications of this judgment,” says Jele.
He says, so far, Eswatini has brought into force two new laws this year, namely, the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Act (2022), and the Data Protection Act (2022).