The King of Swaziland is the world’s last remaining absolute monarch. He can, for example, still choose a new wife each year from among the young girls at the traditional Reed Dance. Opposition to his power is increasing but ineffective. It has focused on the extravagance of the royal family amid the increasing poverty of the Swazi people.
The country is tiny, the size of Wales, but very green and scenic, and has well-developed roads, hotels and shopping. The deep Ezulwini Valley is the tourist heart of the country, with a small game reserve and the ‘cuddle puddle’ hot springs. The valley links the two main towns, both pleasantly small, Mbabane, the capital, up in the hills and Manzini, the commercial centre, down in the ‘middle veld’ and close to the airport.
In the days of apartheid in South Africa, Swaziland’s tourist trade was based on prostitution and the availability of pornographic and political literature that was banned across the border. This has changed and, with exports of sugar cane and pineapples earning less than they used to, legitimate and sustainable tourism is much needed in this country. Even with recent political and economic changes, Swaziland has the highest rate of HIV in the world.