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 1890s 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 Kingdoms administrative
Mbabane is set among the glorious
mountain scenery of the Dlangeni Hills in Swazilands 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.
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 Swazilands western
border during the 1860s and 1870s. 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.
European settler is recorded as being Micky Wells in the late 1880s. 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
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 Ministers
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 citys 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 countrys 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 Kingdoms flags flew at half
Mbabane was declared a city by His Majesty King Mswati III in 1992.