Siswati – Swazi in South Africa

Written by Isabel Harmse

Swati, Sewati, Swazi or siSwati are all names for the same language, which is part of the Nguni group. What can be termed standard Siswati has taken some time to evolve out of the Nguni, Sotho and Tsonga constituent language groups making up the Swazi nation as a language group. The Swazi people live in Swaziland (Eswatini) and Mpumalanga province of South Africa. The history of the Swazi people can be traced back to the early 19th century when a Dlamini ruler with a following fled the Mfecane wars of Zululand to escape Shaka and settled in present day Swaziland. Through conquest and diplomacy he welded together different groups of people who had been destabilized by the wars of Shaka. The nation of the Swazi was thus born. 

The relations between the Swazi speakers in South Africa and those in Swaziland is very interesting. For example, Swazi speaking South Africans cross the border into Swaziland to celebrate the annual first fruits ceremony, whose leading priest is the Swazi monarch, as well as the Umhlanga Reed dance. As a matter of fact, some still recognize Swazi traditional authority. A significant number of Swazi work in South Africa and send home to Swaziland much needed revenue. (National African Language Resource Center)


Unlike the variant in the south of Eswatini, the Mpumalanga variety appears to be less influenced by Zulu, and is thus considered closer to standard Swazi.

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