'More African': eSwatini adapts to contentious name change

2018-10-03 11:20
King Mswati III (Picture: AFP)

King Mswati III (Picture: AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

At the main campus entrance, a large concrete sign welcomes students and visitors to "The University of..." followed by a blank space.

After Swaziland changed its name earlier this year to eSwatini, the nine letters spelling out the old name of the country were removed from the university sign, and new letters have not yet arrived.

"We are still waiting," said a security guard at the gate.

On the other side of the road, Banele Syabonga, 25, contemplated his country's sudden change of name in April, which took many citizens by surprise.

"I like the new name - it is more African," Syabonga, who is unemployed, told AFP, standing outside Lucky's Hair Cut shop, a tin shack in Manzini, the second city of what is now known as eSwatini.

"Swaziland was the British name. Now we have our own," he said, addressing one of the contentious debates about the new title.

In April, King Mswati III - one of the world's last absolute rulers - marked 50 years since his country's independence from British colonial rule by announcing that it would now be known as eSwatini ("land of the Swazis").

* Sign up to News24's top Africa news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO THE HELLO AFRICA NEWSLETTER

FOLLOW News24 Africa on Twitter and Facebook

The monarch's decision, taken without warning or consultation, revealed much about his autocratic rule and his country's history - as well as posing a logistical challenge as the name change came into immediate effect.

Six weeks after the king's pronouncement, the country's representative informed the United Nations headquarters in New York, and the UN soon adopted the new nomenclature.

Regional bodies, including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), have also quickly changed to eSwatini - though they sometimes swap between names in the same statement.

The adjustment has taken some getting used to inside eSwatini, a landlocked nation of just 1.3 million residents between South Africa and Mozambique.

Senior Swazi officials speaking to AFP during a visit last week repeatedly had to stop and correct themselves mid-sentence.

It is "Swaziland" on the banknotes, but the central bank now uses "eSwatini", while police stations are gradually changing their signs.

'Name is your identity'

Unlike many countries, such as Zimbabwe - called Southern Rhodesia under British rule - Swaziland did not change its name when it became independent in 1968.

"African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonised," the king said when he announced the change, having previously complained that Swaziland was often confused with Switzerland.

But the king's claim that eSwatini was Swaziland's old "authentic" name is fiercely disputed.

"There is disagreement over the pre-colonial name - many say it was actually 'Ngwane'," Thulani Maseko, an activist and lawyer who is challenging the name change in court, told AFP in the capital Mbabane.

Ngwane was an ancient name for the Swazi people who settled in the south of the country under King Ngwane II, who ruled in the 18th century.

Swaziland takes its name from King Mswati II, who ruled between 1840 and 1868. The area came under joint British and Boer rule in 1894 before becoming a British territory in 1907.

"The name of your country is your identity, so it should not be changed by just one person issuing a royal command," Maseko said.

"It tells you that the king does not consult with the people when he makes fundamental decisions."

Maseko spent 15 months in jail in 2014-15 for contempt of court after writing about lack of judicial independence, and he accepts that his legal battle over his country's name faces tough odds.

Unwelcome disruption to business

But he wants to take a stand against the king's all-encompassing authority.

The country held elections last month in a vote that was dismissed as a farce by critics because the constitution grants the king complete control over parliament and all branches of the state.

The country is impoverished - in sharp contrast to the king's lavish lifestyle - and the name change is estimated to cost the government up to $6 million.

Percy Simelane, the government spokesperson, declined to comment to AFP, saying the court case made the matter sub-judice.

The name "eSwatini" did not come out of the blue. It is used in the local siSwati language and has appeared for years as the country's sub-title on national passports.

But for souvenir seller Thoko Nkambule, 50, it has been an unwelcome disruption to business.

She offers beaded necklaces, leather bracelets and carved wooden fridge magnets all skillfully spelling out "Swaziland" or now increasingly "eSwatini".

"We are changing step by step," she said. "Some buyers want the old name, some want the new name. Personally, I prefer the old one."

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.