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In the beginning
Mbabane in 1900

Mbabane may well not have become the capital of Swaziland if the British had not won the Anglo-Boer at the turn of the century. During the 1890’s the Boer administration had earmarked what was then Bremersdorp (now Manzini) for the main centre, preferring the warm climate of the middlevelt area. In "Travels of an American Insurance Agent" by Jas. A. Cavanagh, which was published in 1900, Bremersdorp is indeed described as the capital of Swaziland. However, all that changed when the British won the war and Swaziland subsequently became a protectorate of that country. This followed Swazi protests against becoming a protected dependency of the Transvaal Republic and a request to Queen Victoria to establish a protectorate over them.

"Not because they loved her the more but feared her the less", wrote Allister Miller.

The English administrators, used as they were to cooler climes, preferred the weather patterns - and distance from the malarial belt - of the highvelt and so the area which grew to become Mbabane was designated the Kingdom’s administrative capital.

Mbabane is set among the glorious mountain scenery of the Dlangeni Hills in Swaziland’s western highvelt at an altitude of 1,200 metres. It is named after Chief Mbabane Kunene whose clan occupied Dalriach farm at the time. While the name means ‘something sharp and bitter’, its exact meaning and translation from the vernacular are uncertain. Certainly, we do not know whether the reference is to flavour or attitude. Mbabane Kunene was the son of Ngongoma Kunene whose line can be traced to the present day Kunenes.

Alister Miller

Given that Dalriach is a Scottish name, it is interesting to note that a strong settlement of Scots, lead by the McCorkindales, was established in South Africa near Swaziland’s western border during the 1860’s and 1870’s. They would enter the kingdom at Buffalo Heights near Mhlambanyatsi to go and see the king at old Ludzenzini, arriving via what today is Malkerns. Names such as Lochiel and Lothair bear testimony to the Scottish presence in South Africa. The actual town of Mbabane was established near a cattle kraal belonging to King Mbanzeni - great grandfather of the present Monarch, King Mswati III.

The first European settler is recorded as being Micky Wells in the late 1880’s. Gradually more "whites" arrived and while it is generally accepted that Mbabane was proclaimed the capital of Swaziland in 1903, records show that it was declared an urban area only in 1912.

Early pictures show a dusty little hollow, surrounded by spectacular views into the Ezulwini Valley, with colonial style buildings sporting corrugated roofs and walls and shaded verandahs. The first government building was erected on the corner of Allister Miller and Walker Streets which today is the site of the Mbabane Branch of the Swaziland Building Society. The head quarters for the colonial administration was not built until 1939. This fine Cape Dutch structure, which was sadly damaged by a bomb late 1998, today houses the Deputy Prime Minister’s office. Next to it was the old court house which presently accommodates the Trade Promotion Unit under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

One of the most prominent white settlers in early Mbabane was Alexander Mitchell Miller, known as Allister Miller, (pictured above) after whom the city’s main street is named. Born in 1864 on a ship off Singapore, he arrived in Swaziland in 1888 and became secretary of the White Committee. Miller was a man of diverse talents - journalist, author, politician and cartographer. He produced the first topographical maps of Swaziland and surveyed a canal which, when dug many years later, enabled the sugar industry to start at Big Bend. He founded the Times of Swaziland in 1897 and started many of the country’s key agricultural activities. Miller became unpopular with the Swazi authorities for pressing white settlers’ claims in the land issue but when he died in 1951, the Kingdom’s flags flew at half mast.
Mbabane was declared a city by His Majesty King Mswati III in 1992.


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