Navigating The Social Dynamics Of South Africa’s Last Absolute Monarchy

As an avid reader of my blog, you are now well aware that I took a three-week trip around South Africa (the South Africa you don’t see in the news) and I made detours in Lesotho and Swaziland. Having already heard all about the mountain kingdom tucked away inside South Africa, it’s now time to learn about the kingdom that is sort of tucked away inside South Africa.

Actually, you already know one fact about Swaziland. While traveling Lesotho, Sergio (remember he’s been traveling with me the whole time) and I had to be cognizant of the fact that in 2016 Lesotho trailed only Swaziland for having the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate.

Since Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate, Sergio and I had to be very careful during our brief stay in the country. We didn’t formally sign an abstinence pledge before entering Swaziland, but in our minds we basically did. This became quite a challenge for us. You will see why…

Entering Swaziland

There was just a very short break between our South African sidetrips into Lesotho and Swaziland.

You may recall that after departing Lesotho, Sergio and I spent the night in Clarens, the artsy South African town near the border with the mountain kingdom. The very next day Sergio and I were already in Swaziland. But the drive from Clarens to Swaziland wasn’t so simple…

Lesotho to Swaziland via South Africa

We tried to take the shortest route, but things, or roads, did not turn out so smoothly. Driving all day, we traversed lots of farmland and ended up on some gravel roads. A new farm was popping up every 20 kilometers or so, and we almost ran out of fuel while driving through this remote region of South Africa. Throw in a few cities — Ladysmith, Newcastle and Piet Retief — and, having covered all of this turf, we arrived at the Swaziland border.

After crossing into Swaziland, we headed straight to Manzini, the largest city in this small country. In Manzini, we picked the right accommodation. It’s called The George Hotel.

From the outside, The George looked like a typical African hotel — nothing special. But on the inside it had all we could ask for — a large pool, a poolside bar and beautiful African women running around the premises. My impression was that this is where the Swaziland elite do their weekend partying.

The George Hotel

After relaxing poolside and dining at the hotel restaurant, Sergio and I went out to a club that was located next door to The George.

At the club we met a girl…

Upon meeting her, the girl was with a guy who told us he was her uncle. That wasn’t true. Rather than gravitating toward him, she spent the rest of the night with us, drinking talking, smoking shisha and eventually sleeping…??

Yes, at the end of the night out, she did not want to go home and she wanted to sleep in our hotel room. Eventually she did. There was no sexual activity, but this was the beginning of a new Swaziland adventure.

Nature in Swaziland

When we woke up the following day the girl phoned a friend. Sergio and I went with the girl to pick up her friend, and the four of us ventured to a safari lodge (not as impressive as the Barahi Jungle Lodge in Nepal). From there we embarked on a short safari experience at the Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary. We saw some monkeys, wild dogs, zebras and a giraffe. Again, no big cats.

My first wild giraffe

We opted not to stay at the safari lodge. Rather, Sergio and I checked into an undisclosed location where we spent the night. Sergio had his own room, and I had my own room. It just so happened one of the girls spent the night in Sergio’s room, and one spent the night in my room.

What happened??

Well, not much. It’s not that these girls were not attractive or that we thought we they had a certain health condition. They were attractive girls. We just conjured up our will power and stuck to our informal abstinence pledge.

With that said, the girls did have some interesting characteristics — both physical and in their personalities. These were girls from the upper class in Swaziland. They had good jobs and were making good money by Swazi standards.

In Swaziland, some girls start using bleaching cream, or skin lightening methods, at a very young age. These two girls — now young women — had clearly used some skin lightening products. Their skin was about as light as ours — and we are German!

I’m not going to judge them… on their looks. What I have failed to mention thus far, is that while these two girls made for good impromptu adventure partners, they were also super annoying. They were easily as annoying as  the heavyset girl from California on my Outback excursion in Australia.

The two Swazi girls talked WAY too much, and they had a really bad giggling habit. At times their laughs would sound like a witch’s laugh. After spending one full day with them, Sergio and I were ready to part ways with our female Swazi companions.

On our final day in Swaziland, we drove them home and then cruised a bit through the national capital, Mbabane. Our time in Mbabane wasn’t as memorable as our visit to Manzini and its illustrious The George Hotel.

Sergio and I with the girls

And then the cops came…

After driving through Mbabane, we headed for the South African border, where we would promptly enter Kruger National Park. But on both sides of the border we were stopped by police officers.

While still in Swaziland, we were actually driving 25 kmh over the speed limit. We got ticketed for a whopping 2 euros 50 cents. No bribe was demanded. We gladly paid the fine and walked away with a Swaziland souvenir.

The Swaziland souvenir

Just across the border, a South African officer stopped us when we were not speeding. He claimed we were driving too fast and demanded our driver’s licenses. The cop then complained that we did not have South African driver’s licenses, even though that is not needed to drive in the country. He threatened to detain us and made a bit of the scene. In the end a little money solved that problem, too. 😉

Fun facts about Swaziland

Given how quirky (sometimes in a good way) Swaziland is, the country is deserving of some more explaining.

First off, Swaziland has a king. As of last year, King Mswati III had 15 wives. He also has a fleet of Mercedes vehicles. And every year lots of young Swazi virgin women dance bare-breasted for him as part of the Reed Dance ceremony. Fortunately or unfortunately, we missed this event.

Several months after Sergio and I departed Swaziland, King Mswati changed the name of the country from the Kingdom of Swaziland to the Kingdom of eSwatini (land of the Swazis). So technically, the country isn’t even called Swaziland anymore, although this gets confusing and everyone still seems to refer to the country as Swaziland.

Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, meaning it’s the only country left on the continent in which the king has absolute political power. However, it’s technically and absolute diarchy in which the king rules in conjunction with his mother. But the mother doesn’t have hundreds of bare-breasted women to choose from as potential mates, and it’s the king who’s calling the shots.

On the economic side of things, Swaziland is a bit of a one-trick pony. That trick is getting Coca-Cola to relocate some of its operations from South Africa to Swaziland, which occurred in 1987 during the apartheid era. Coca-Cola is said to alone generate nearly half of Swaziland’s GDP.

Human rights campaigners complain that Coca-Cola is effectively paying taxes to a corrupt king who picks new brides from groups of bare-breasted teenage dancers. I say to each their own and just find a way to stop paying taxes. 😉

 

Stay: The George hotel in Manzini is your best bet. Featuring quite a nice restaurant, rooms with aircon, a big swimming pool and a night club next door, you have all amenities you hardly find in Swaziland.

 

Eat: The typical fare you also find in West Africa.

 

Drink: The nightclub next door to the George hotel was quite crowded that Satuday night. Enough drinks, pretty girls and plenty of shishas to smoke,

 

Connect: Google Fi worked in Swaziland well enough along the main road and in the towns. Wifi was quite good as well.

 

See: Swaziland is famous for its national parks – we missed several of them. It is a small country, but it has much to offer.

 

Do: Go to meet the locals like we did. Most Swahilis are very friendly and quite educated.

 

Go there: While flying is an option, you rather drive from South Africa or Mozambique. Maputo, capital of Mozambique, is pretty close as is Pretoria in South Africa.

 

Go next: If not continuing to Mozambique, go back to South Africa and visit the famous Kruger National Park starting from the south. From the Northern Swasi border you reach the park entrance in 90 minutes.