King Mswati III announced yesterday that his country, Swaziland, a small, landlocked monarchy in southern Africa, will now be referred to by its original name—eSwatini.
The declaration, made at a packed sports stadium in the city of Manzini, also known as “The Hub” of the country, marks 50 years since independence was gained from British rule.
eSwatini means “place of the Swazi” in the Swazi language. The change was aimed at shedding the country’s British colonial past. Swaziland was a British protectorate from 1871 until its independence on Sept. 6, 1968.
After colonial rule, many African protectorates changed their names, including places like Lesotho (which was called Basotoland), Zimbabwe (previously Rhodesia), and Botswana (then called Bechuanaland). But the country did not change its name when it gained independence after being a British protectorate for more than 60 years.
“African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonized,” the king said during the celebrations. “So from now on, the country will be officially be known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.”
The country’s independence was led by King Sobhuza II, who suspended the constitution in 1973 because he believed the colonial document did not reflect the will of the people. Since then, the king has enjoyed absolute power. His son, the current king, has ruled since 1986, suppressing any attempts at multiparty democracy, and because it’s an absolute monarchy, such a momentous change was easy to enact.
Reactions on social media have been mixed. Some users on Twitter laud the monarch’s move, while others point out issues in the country that are yet to be addressed, saying a change in name might not have been the most pressing thing on the citizens’ minds in recent years.
The king, who was crowned in 1986 aged 18, rules by decree and has often been criticised for his lavish lifestyle regardless of the grinding poverty suffered by many of his citizens with the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate.
Despite the king’s personal wealth of an alleged $200 million, citizens were asked to contribute to his birthday party leading to the country and the king’s birthday celebrations being marred by protests. Just last week, police fired rubber bullets at around 2,000 people who marched against spending public funds on the lavish 50-50 Jubilee celebrations.
Some Swiss, however, have responded with relief as the countries often are confused on online forms. “The name “Swaziland” had caused confusion,” the king said.“Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland.”
Before now, the king has referred to the “Kingdom of eSwatini” several times in recent years, including an address to the UN General Assembly in 2017.