Like other parts of southern Africa, Swaziland was originally occupied by hunting and gathering peoples known as Bushmen. In the 16th century, according to tradition, Bantu-speaking peoples advanced southwest to what is now Mozambique. During the migration, these groups disintegrated to form the various ethnic groups of southern Africa. In fact, however, the Swazi do not appear to have broken away from the main body of the Bantu until the middle of the 18th century. The Swazi emerged as a distinct ethnic group at the beginning of the 19th century and were in constant conflict with the Zulu; they moved gradually northward and made their first formal contact with the British in the 1840s, when their ruler, Mswati II, applied to the British for help against the Zulu. The British succeeded in improving relations between the two ethnic groups.
About this time, the first Europeans came to Swaziland to settle. The independence of Swaziland was guaranteed by the British and Transvaal governments in 1881 and 1884, but owing to the excessive number of concessions (including land, grazing, and mineral rights) granted to European entrepreneurs by Mbandzeni (the king) during the 1880s, the UK decided some form of control was necessary. In 1890, a provisional government was established, representing the Swazi, the British, and the Transvaal. From 1894 to 1899, the Transvaal government undertook the protection and administration of Swaziland. After the South African (Boer) War of 1899–1902, the administration of Swaziland was transferred to the British governor of the Transvaal. An order in council established the relationship between the Swazi and the UK in 1903, providing the basic authority under which British administration was conducted for 60 years.
Responsibility for Swaziland was transferred in 1907 to the high commissioner for South Africa. An elected European Advisory Council was constituted in 1921. By the provisions of the Native Administration Proclamation of 1941, the position of the ngwenyama (paramount chief) as native authority was recognized. In 1963, constitutional discussions looking toward independence were opened in London. The following year, elections for a legislative council were held under the country's first constitution. After further constitutional talks, held in London in 1965, Swaziland became an independent nation within the Commonwealth on 6 September 1968.
On 12 April 1973, King Sobhuza II, who had been head of the Swazi nation since 1921, announced that the constitution had been repealed and that he had assumed supreme executive, legislative, and judicial powers. In 1979, a new parliament was chosen, partly through indirect elections and partly through royal appointment.
After Sobhuza died in 1982, a prolonged power struggle took place. At first his senior wife, Queen Mother Dzeliwe, became head of state and regent. Members of the Liqoqo, the king's advisory council, seized effective power and appointed a new "Queen Regent" in August 1983 (Ntombi, one of Sobhuza's other wives). At that time it was announced that Makhosetive, the 15-year-old son of Ntombi and one of Sobhuza's 67 sons, would ascend the throne upon reaching adulthood. He was crowned King Mswati III on 25 April 1986. The intrigues continued until the new king approved the demotion of the Liqoqo back to its advisory status. He has ruled through his prime minister and cabinet.
In 1982, South Africa and Swaziland secretly signed a security agreement. Under pressure from South Africa, Swaziland arrested and deported members of the African National Congress, the leading black nationalist group in South Africa. On three different occasions in late 1985 and 1986, South African commando squads conducted raids in Swaziland, killing a number of ANC members and supporters. In November 1987, a new parliament was elected and a new cabinet appointed. Obed Dlamini was the prime minister from 1989 until 1993. In September and October, 1993, popular elections were held for parliament and a new prime minister, Prince Mbilini, took office, replacing Dlamini, who was defeated in the second round of voting. Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini was appointed prime minister in July 1996.
The Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions and the National Association of Civil Servants have organized strikes as a means to pressure the government for greater democratic control by the people of Swaziland. The strikes led the government to ban trade unions in 1995. The ban was later lifted but the country was again disrupted in 1996 by a general strike supported by the SFTU, which resulted in three leaders being detained, and the formation of a Constitutional Review Commission charged with the task of soliciting views from the Swazi nation as to the type of constitution preferred. The commission must meet with all the country's constituencies and submit a report to government officials.
By December 2000, 4 years after its commissioning, the Constitutional Review Commission had not completed its task of drafting a new constitution. The commission will now take six years to complete a two-year task assigned by King Mswati in 1996. Presently, the commission has collected views from more than 18,000 people in 18 Tinkhundla centers since this phase began in June, 1996. An additional 155,000 people are still expected to make submissions to the commission from the remaining 37 constituency centers. Once all the submissions are collected the next stage would be to analyze the submissions and prepare the draft constitution to be submitted to the king in August 2001. The government's explanation for such a prolonged delay in drafting a new constitution is disruptions caused by excessive rains, funerals and other occasions like public holidays and national assignments like the sacred "Incwala", the Swazi Thanksgiving Ceremony.