The Identity Politics of Swaziland & Eswatini

On April 19 2018 King Mswati III made an announced that the country previously known as “Swaziland shall henceforth be renamed to Eswatini”or was it eSwatin? The name change obviously took everyone by surprise considering that we had not received the memo, but the fact that it was dressed in the cloaks of “self-determination” meant that we could saturate the aftermath with identity decolonization lingo. Identity politics have always been a rallying subject for Africans which is understandable considering the extent to which our identity has been erased. But I often ask myself if we will ever be vigilant enough to equally denounce the history of internal colonization?

On the one hand it is undoubtedly true that denouncing our former name Swaziland is in essence denouncing an aspect of white domination, however isn’t it also true that referring to ourselves under the name of another King is, in essence, discrediting the fact that even the Swati title derived from King Mswati II was equally asserted through historical domination? I have lived in Swaziland all my life and have often heard and sometimes felt the historical tensions of the Dlamini Clan arriving from the north (Mozambique) and annihilating a large number of the clans they found to assert their domination through their paramount Chief and later on a King. You can count me out from the euphoria of changing from Swaziland to Eswatini, I will not fall into the trap of substituting white domination for black domination, not now & certainly not ever.

Let’s say we dial down the  consequences of yesteryears archaic pan Africanism and review the identity construct operative: “Kings are the definitive of African Culture”. Well, first of all, the fact that Kings existed in some spaces does not mean they existed in all spaces in this continent. Heck some tribes & (Maseko`s , Simelanes e.t.c) were very much comfortable under the authority of their Chiefs. Of late the clans have taken on the tradition of unifying  their own and often we sit down and listen to the elders telling us about how important each clan was before the Royal family overthrew the clan way to assert theirs. For the life of me I refuse to dishonor my forefathers who died fighting against the Dlamini only to ultimately call myself under the name of one of the Dlamini`s. (Mswati) I refuse to buy into the politics of validating anyone whose politics is premised around perpetuating their legacy. Forget the Africanness of it, I won’t do it.


Charcoal Nsibande is an Eswatini visual artist and writer.