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The Development of Mbabane

Mbabane Today

Until the late 1970’s, little development had taken place in the town which, in 1992, was declared a city by King Mswati III. The major residential areas were close to the city centre and there were few houses in the suburbs such as Dalriach and Tembelishle. However, all that changed during the past two decades and people who have not visited for several years are astonished at the extent of suburban growth. What were previously rolling hills and treed expanses are now residential areas of high quality homes and offering a generally modern and affluent life style.

Among the earlier residences were the three government houses along Gilfillan Street from the corner of Scott Street. Erected during the second world war, they enjoy the distinction of being the first double-story houses in Mbabane built of concrete blocks and they, as well as the adjacent bus stop, were known as "concretia". That land had previously formed part of the first golf course and later a rugby field. There were no other houses in the vicinity and the whole area, which is now the oldest residential suburb of Mbabane, was described as velt land.

Indeed, on 13 October 1967, according to City Council records, the author’s own home on Schoch Street was approved for construction (under the name of H.C. Noddeboe) - at a cost of E8,800.00!

While many of the streets in old Mbabane are named after prominent people such as Resident Commissioners, others take their names from land surveyors who worked in the vicinity.

Closer to the city centre along Johnston Street are three small houses, one of which is now home to the Indingilizi Art Gallery, which have an interesting history. They were built in 1946/7 by an unknown benefactor to house Jewish refugees who had arrived from Germany in 1939 and initially had to live in tin shacks. Some of these people, including Marcia Skuy, Reggi Goldblatt and Josef Hamburger, still live in Mbabane today. Mrs. Goldblatt recalls that up to four families had to share a house and some of the refugees were employed at Mr. Tanchum’s clothing factory which was located further down the same road where the Lighthouse, a Christian refuge for street children, now operates.

During the mid 1970’s, Swaziland’s first shopping precinct, the Swazi Plaza, was developed. Over the years this has been extended several times. In 1989, a second shopping precinct, The Mall, was developed and a few years later The New Mall was erected next to it, just on the other side of the Mbabane River. Both precincts provide office space and the three commercial banks have their head quarters within the area.


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The Mbabane bus rank and street vendors

It has been recorded that every hour, 12,000 pedestrians pass into the shopping areas from the adjacent bus rank, while 6,000 vehicles enter and leave the city centre each day.
The majority of activity has thus moved away from Allister Miller Street in the city centre.
While the Central Bank of Swaziland’s eight-story building was once the most prominent landmark and Mbabane House was considered the most modern office block, others have since been erected which have changed the face of the city. These include the Chinese Embassy which provides an Oriental touch and Dhlan’ubeka House, both built in the mid 1980’s, and Mbandzeni Building and Mona Flats at the edge of the Western Distributor Road. Mona is now the highest building in the city. In 1999 the extensive MTN Office Park was completed on the site of the old Tavern Hotel entailing yet another change to the city’s face. While these are the most prominent developments, others have also taken place, including office parks and the imposing new Swazi Delta building, which houses the General Motors dealership, at the edge of the Mbabane Industrial Site.

In 1978 the Sidwashini Industrial Area to the west of the city was barely developed. Today this has grown to accommodate thriving light industries and other concerns.

The road network has also been expanded and future plans include a ring road to relieve congestion within the city. Today, there are 51 km. of gravel and 91 km. of tarred road in the Mbabane urban area. This is a substantial improvement considering that in 1962, the only stretch of tar in the whole of Swaziland was 200 meters along Allister Miller Street from the now Standard Bank to the Gilfillan Street junction.

Development Statistics
The recorded population of 23,019 people in 1976 had grown to 58,063 by 1996, almost doubling every 10 years. Projected growth for the next 10 years is 42%. This is clearly a significant factor when planning for future growth and development, bearing in mind increased demand for goods, services and accommodation. The City Council also serves an additional 103,000 people in the surrounding areas.
Thus commercial investment in Mbabane is considered viable, as the following figures will illustrate:
For the period 1994-1998, the City Council considered a yearly average of E34 million worth of new development - E11 million more than the current annual budget. 1997 was a particularly good year with E40.676 million worth of new development - almost double the annual budget. While development in 1998 was just E26,081 million, this is still in excess of the annual budget.
From 1994 until 1998 the value of development in the city was $ US 12,327 million.

Development Potential
Because of Mbabane’s mountainous terrain, there is no great advantage in establishing heavy industries, particularly given the proximity of Matsapha, the country’s main industrial area. Only light industrial development is feasible and pollutant operations are not encouraged in Mbabane. The two small industrial areas adjacent to the city comprise such industries as publishing, plant assembly, motor mechanics and warehousing.

Mbabane’s close proximity to other major urban centres, both within and outside Swaziland through excellent transport networks, provides opportunities for companies involved in the distribution of goods. The nearest sea ports are Maputo in Mozambique and Richards Bay in South Africa while the nearest railway station and international airport are at Matsapha, 30 km. from the city.

Other areas for investment opportunities are for quality hotels, and in the entertainment and related industries. There are presently very few outlets in this category although there is high demand for such facilities.


Banking Services

Three commercial banks operate in Mbabane where their respective headquarters are also located. These are First National Bank, Nedbank and Standard bank. All Three are represented throughout the country and offer the gamut of services for both corporate and private clients. The parastatal Swaziland Development and Savings Bank provides for the agricultural sector while the Swaziland Building Society (scheduled to become a bank) deals with mortgage finance.

First National Bank began operating in Swaziland in 1995 and today provides a diversity of products, including card-based savings schemes, home loans and general banking services, as well as specials products such as Status and Premier accounts for high achievers. The Wesbank division provides competitive leasing and hire purchase facilities and is a key provider of asset based finance. FNB operates a main branch and a service branch in Mbabane.

The Central Bank of Swaziland, Mbabane

The year 2000 marks the third year of Nedbank’s presence in Swaziland, during which time it has introduced its new corporate image and unveiled its mission statement. Changes during the period were primarily aimed at strategically refocusing the bank for growth and aligning its culture and values to the aspirations of the shareholders. Nedbank’s Mbabane branch and head office are housed at the modern Nedbank Centre, together with the human resources department and training centre. Nedbank continues to consolidate its business operations and is strategically growing its market share in Swaziland.

Standard Bank has the largest representation in the country, having acquired the assets of Barclays Bank of Swaziland in 1997. Changes which took place under the new structure included decentralising the business unit from the head office to three branches, including Mbabane. The bank, which is a members of the Standard Bank Group of South Africa, has two branches in Mbabane and offers true international banking and technological innovation. It was the first local bank to expand international communications by joining SWIFT - Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.


The Sporting Life

For many years the Prince of Wales Oval, which is common ground, has formed the nucleus of sporting events in Mbabane. School sports days are frequently held there and at weekends, it is the venue for the ever popular game of soccer.Across the road are the municipal tennis and squash courts at Coronation Park and in between is the Mbabane Club, popular with Swazis and expatriates alike and where diverse sporting facilities are available.

Soccer match at The Oval - photo courtesy Times of Swaziland

The nearby golf club, which was opened in 1949, dates back to 1946 when the new Resident Commissioner E.B. "Ted" Beetham expressed shock at the lack of such a facility, vowing to "soon fix that". However, golf was first played in Mbabane - and in Swaziland - in around 1923 on a course in the vicinity of Scott and Muir Streets. This comprised "greens" of stamped earth and short veld grass and was later destined to become a rugby field until the land was given over to housing.

Cricket, was started in Mbabane by the Resident Commissioner A.G. Marwick and Mr. W.A. Morris who were responsible for creating the Oval. Regular matches started in 1910 and the game remained popular until the 1980’s, to be revived again during recent years.

Squash, tennis and bowls are among the other popular sports and rugby which, like cricket tended to decline in the 1980’s, has also enjoyed a revival.

Theatre and Entertainment

Theatre in Swaziland was born of the old Mbabane Dramatic Society in the late 1920’s. Until the second world war, productions were held in what is now the Department of Labour or in the old Central Hotel. When the Mbabane Club opened in 1947, the Dramatic Society became one of its sections until 1953 when it moved to the new Queensway Theatre (now Cinelux). This provided such luxuries as a permanent stage, a lighting box and dressing rooms and was the scene of many quality productions. The concept of the Swaziland Theatre Club in Johnson Street was born in 1964 and the theatre was erected in 1968. During over 30 ensuing years, productions of all types have been staged by the Mbabane community as well as by visiting companies - both professional and amateur. These include drama, comedy, musicals and concerts. The Swaziland Theatre Club continues to provide a venue for the dramatic arts, making Mbabane the centre for such activities in the country.

There are numerous video rental outlets for home entertainment but only one cinema in the city. The government-run local TV and radio stations are based in Mbabane.

There are only two hotels in Mbabane which provide accommodation, restaurants and conference facilities, as well as a number of other restaurants and fast food outlets. As already noted, investment opportunities exist in this sector particularly for quality facilities.

The Siyavuka Festival
This arts event was started in 1998 by a group of far-sighted and dedicated people using Mbabane as a venue. The diversity of attractions included musicians who performed at the Prince of Wales Oval, artists and craftsmen and a wide range of other talents. Input was from both local and visiting artists and it is planned to make the Siyavuka Festival and annual event during August.


There are more than 15 primary and high schools in Mbabane which are run by government, private organisations or missions. Among these is an SOS International School which, among others, provides for underprivileged or orphaned children with education and a home environment. There are also several nursery and pre-schools. Also located in Mbabane are the Institute of Health Sciences which is a campus of

Primary School children, Mbabane

the University of Swaziland, the Swaziland College of Technology, and a special school for handicapped children.

Other educational centres include private training institutes, the British Council and the American Information Centre. The head office and main branch of the Government library is also in the city.


Waterford Kamhlaba School
Waterford is an independent coeducational secondary school of multi-faceted leanings. It was founded as Waterford School in 1963 and was given the additional name by King Sobhuza II in 1967. He meant both "of the world" - a world in miniature - and "of the earth" - without racial or religious distinctions.Waterford became a full member of the United World Colleges movement in 1981.

Part of the Warterford campus

There are 10 UWCs throughout the world, all committed to the highest academic standards and the promotion of international understanding by bringing together students from a diversity of nationalities and social backgrounds.

Waterford offers a five year programme leading to the International GCSE, followed by two years leading to the International Baccalaureate which allows entry to most universities in the world and advanced placement in some.

Apart from the wide academic curriculum, students are presented with many opportunities to develop personally and socially through community service, student government, sport and a wide range of extra curricula clubs and interest groups.

In 1999 the college had 475 students of over 50 nationalities and 45 staff representing 16 nationalities. It is a secondary school of choice for those seeking a truly international education in a southern African context.

Health Services
The Mbabane Government Hospital is the largest and busiest centre of its type in the country, receiving up to 400 patients each day. Other health facilities include the Salvation Army Clinic at the populous suburb of Msunduza and The Clinic which is a private hospital. Dental services are readily available. Numerous private practitioners offer diverse specialties to the community.

The Swaziland Posts and Telecommunications Corporation,
which employs over 800 people, has been a body corporate since 1983. SPTC is involved with the supply of postal and telecommunications services in Swaziland and also functions as a regulator for telecommunication operations in the country. Services include telephone and data lines, PABXs and postal services for businesses, government and individuals, utilising specialised equipment which includes digital exchanges and a satellite earth station.

Developments during 1999 include the commissioning of three new exchanges: Siphocosini, Mahwalawa and Mahamba. STBC’s Y2K Project Office is responsible for coordinating the upgrading of machinery in readiness for the year 2000. This includes stamps used by the postal division as well as all computer operated equipment and telephone application forms.

The Cellular Network
This facility, which is run by MTN in Swaziland, was introduced at the end of 1998 and is a popular and convenient means of communication. MTN is based in Mbabane and provides a reliable service in all the main centres as well as selected rural locations where large agricultural estates operate.

Mbabane is fully electrified with the exception of some homes in the peri-urban area. This service is provided by the Swaziland Electricity Board which has its head office in Mbabane. The Water Services Corporation, also based in Mbabane, is responsible for the urban water supply. All homes have direct supplies or access through communal supplies in the peri-urban areas. The Urban Development Project will address the issues of electrification and improved water supplies to such areas.

The majority of citizens utilise public transport, which is owned by private operators, mostly in the form of buses. However, taxis are also well utilized. As well as operating between suburbs, the transport services link centres throughout the country.

The urban development project
Mbabane will benefit from this major undertaking, which falls under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, and is scheduled for completion in 2006. It entails a World Bank loan totaling E400 million over three phases for the improvement of urban infrastructure and the provision of quality low-cost housing. The upgrading of existing housing will also be carried out. It is expected that 100,000 people in the Mbabane/Manzini corridor - some 10% of the population - will benefit from the project.

Apart from the two main complexes, the Swazi Plaza and The Mall, there are a number of smaller shopping centres within and around the city. Most goods and services are available.

Some Mbabane businesses

Indingilizi Gallery
Situated in a charming historical cottage on Johnstone Street, Indingilizi has been a centre for art in Swaziland since 1982, providing a high standard of excellence of both art and crafts by local and international artists. Regular exhibitions are well supported by enthusiastic clients who often meet with the artists in the adjoining Courtyard restaurant where ideas and opinions are shared in a lively ambiance.

Swaziland serves a diversity of clients throughout the country, including hotels, pubs and clubs, multiple dwellings and individual residences. Installations are carried out at highly competitive prices and full back-up service and problem solving is provided. Subscribers receive a monthly magazine containing full details of available programmes. DSTV enables viewers to tune into a vast selection of channels, including M. Net and the United Kingdom’s Sky News.

Radio Link Security
is part of the Secure Holdings Group which was founded in 1982 and comprises companies which between them offer a comprehensive security service. Radio Link installs and monitors quality alarms for residential, commercial and industrial premises and also supplies access control and surveillance systems. It also installs digital and analogue TV systems and stocks cell phone accessories. It serves the whole country and has depots in Mbabane, Manzini and Matsapha.The highly trained technical staff receive frequent specialised training to keep them up to date with the ever-changing technology employed in the security and communications industries.

Swazi Delta
Swazi Delta dates back to 1908 when the firm was founded by the same family which owns it today and it is the only privately owned operation of its kind in the country. The present name was adopted in 1992 to identify with the Delta Motor Corporation which is the main supplier and during the same year, a second branch was opened in Manzini. The dealership supplies Opel, Isuzu and Suzuki passenger and commercial vehicles and run a full workshop and spares department.

During 1997 the company acquired a substantial piece of land at the edge of the Mbabane industrial site which was subsequently developed in three phases with an impressive E7 million building. Since the end of 1998 this has housed the whole operation which includes the workshop, spares department and a showroom as well as a filling station.

Swazi Delta enjoys a major share of Swaziland’s vehicle market.


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