King Sobhuza II was born on 22 July 1899 in Zombodze in Swaziland, the eldest son of King Bhunu and Queen Lomawa Ndwandwe in the then Protectorate of Swaziland. When his father died shortly after his birth, he was proclaimed by the royal council as king and given the name Ngwenyama Sobhuza II, with the Queen Mother Labotsibeni as regent. The young monarch received his primary education in Swaziland and in 1916 was sent to Lovedale College in South Africa to complete his secondary education.
Sobhuza’s father, King Ngwane V, died in February 1899, at the age of 23, dancing during the yearly incwala (First Fruit) ceremony. Sobhuza was born on July 22, 1899, and was named as heir on September 10, 1899, under the regency of his grandmother, Labotsibeni Gwamile Mdluli.
In 1921, the 22-year old assumed the throne as King Ngwenyama Sobhuza II at Zombodze Royal Residence. He was to reign until the end of his life in 1982. Sobhuza II’s reign was to span most of the key events and milestones which laid the foundations of modern Africa in the 20th century.
Sobhuza II oversaw traditional festivities and rituals, and practiced traditional medicine. He maintained a tight control on Swaziland politics by marrying into notable Swazi families. He was a strong proponent of polygamy.Sobhuza married 70 wives, who bore him 210 children between 1920 and 1970. At his death in 1982, he had more than 1000 grandchildren.
Throughout his long reign he sought to improve the lot of his people. During the height of colonial rule, when the struggle for African liberation was starting to gain momentum, he emphasised education and unity above all else, knowing that the time would come when the people of Swaziland would have to take over the duties of self-government and the responsibilities of independence.
His efforts and true belief in peace extended beyond the borders of his beloved land. When indeed the winds of change began to sweep the continent, Sobhuza II fully supported the movement for change and independence. He led his country into the Organisation of African Unity, while preaching peaceful change and the importance of unity on the continent.
Under his guiding hand, his country peacefully negotiated independence from Britain in 1968. In the immediate post-independence period, characterised by tensions and friction on the continent, Sobhuza II played a mediating role in finding solutions to the political problems besetting his continent, always negotiating unity among African leaders.
He was committed to peaceful change and renounced violence. Swaziland became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement under his charge. He supported the liberation movements in South Africa, both morally and materially, and his country was to incur humiliating military attacks by the apartheid regime as a result of this. Yet, believing in the inherent goodness of mankind, he continued to engage in discussions with the South African Government.
Sobhuza II succeeded in creating a harmonious and non-racial society in Swaziland. His astute efforts towards a middle road allowed his country to negotiate successfully the difficulties of adjusting to a rapidly modernising world while continuing to draw on the strength and wisdom of African belief systems and pride in Swazi heritage and culture.
Throughout his long reign, Sobhuza II ably guided his small country through one of history’s most bewildering centuries – from colonial subservience, to independence, and onto the global stage. Ngwenyama Sobhuza II, the selfless and wise leader and dignified man of patience and dialogue, helped to create a great nation that prides itself on its culture, its stability and its peaceful disposition.
King Sobhuza died on 21 August 1982 at the Embo State House at the age of 83. He was one of the world’s longest-serving and most loved monarchs. Mswati III is Sobhuza II’s son and eventual successor.