Land claim falls on deaf SA ears

Swaziland is growing impatient with the non-response of South Africa to a long-standing Swazi claim to territory confiscated during the colonial era and now incorporated into its modern-day neighbour.

"This is Swazi land, historically and culturally. We have had commitments in the past from South African governments, most notably Nelson Mandela, that the matter will be resolved. But since [President] Thabo Mbeki took office, there has been silence from Pretoria," Prince Khuzulwandle, brother to King Mswati III, told IRIN.

Mswati appointed Prince Khuzulwandle as chairman of the government's Border Adjustment Committee in 1994. The committee meets infrequently, but its mandate is a serious one. Opening parliament this year, Mswati, in his annual State of the Kingdom speech, reiterated his desire to see all Swazis reunited.

"We have waited over a century to bring our brothers and sisters back into the fold under their king," said Prince Khuzulwandle. "We are getting the impression that Mbeki's administration is trying to avoid meeting with us," he told the local press.

The territory Swaziland wants back is divided into three sections. KaNgwane extends up to 40 km from Swaziland's west to northeast border, fitting like a cap over the country's northern area.

Ngavuma, if reacquired by Swaziland, would return the kingdom to its original location on the Indian Ocean. Swaziland would no longer be a landlocked country, but would encompass what is now South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province south from the Mozambique border to Lake Sibaya.

A 65 km by 30 km banana-shaped strip, the Nsikazi Area, is not contiguous with Swaziland or the other disputed lands, and extends north from the White River in South Africa's northern Mpumalanga Province.

"This land rightfully belongs to Swazis, and most of the Swazis on that land long to be reunited with the rest of the Swazi population," Prince Khuzulwandle said.

British miners and Boer farmers laid claim to Swazi territory in the late 19th century. By 1902, Britain had portioned off large sections of land previously ruled by Swazi kings into the Boer Republic of Transvaal (today's Mpumalanga Province) and Britain's Natal Province, leaving the landlocked rump that today remains as Swaziland.

About twice as many Swazis live in these areas of South Africa as in Swaziland itself, whose current population is under one million.

During his 60-year reign, Mswati's father, King Sobhuza, continuously sought territorial reunification. South Africa's apartheid regime cooperated in the 1980s, in an attempt to prove to the world it had an ally in a black African state. Pretoria wanted to use Swaziland as a "Bantustan" homeland of which all South African Swazis would become citizens, wherever they lived, thus making them legal aliens in the country of their birth.

A government-to-government agreement was nearly concluded in 1982, but the KwaZulu legislature successfully sued to block the land transfer.

King Mswati sought to revive border adjustment talks upon South Africa's democratisation in 1994. Both countries formed border adjustment committees. Swaziland's committee still exists under Prince Khuzulwandle.

"In South Africa, we have had talks with all the chiefs, and many community meetings. We listen to concerns, and also to the people's hope to be part of Swaziland again," Khuzulwandle said.

The charter of the Organisation of African Unity, which has become the African Union, committed its members to respect national borders as established during colonial times. But Swazi officials say the condition does not apply to its territories because Swazi kings have continuously protested the removal of the lands, and have never forsaken ownership.

Many South Africans, however, dismiss Swaziland's claim.

"I can see how a black South African during the apartheid era might find life better under the Swazi king, but now we've got democracy, and it is not possible to live again in a non-democratic state," said Nelspruit resident Mandla Nxumalo, whose family homestead in Ermelo would revert to Swazi rule.

Another obstacle to reunification is the expensive development underway in the disputed Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal areas. The regions straddle the Lubombo Mountain Range, which has been targeted for economic revival under the Lubombo Spatial Development Initiative agreed upon by Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland (LSDI).

South Africa has already spent R73 million (US $7.3 million) on hospitals, clinics, schools and crèches, and R20 million (US $2.7 million) on new roads in KwaZulu-Natal. Under LSDI, R80 million (US $11 million) in private investment has gone into the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, South Africa's first World Heritage site. Two new highways connecting South Africa and Mozambique pass through the disputed land, which would all become Swazi territory if Mbabane gets its way.