Reviewed by Ackson M. Kanduza (Department of History, University of Swaziland)
Published on H-SAfrica (August, 2001)
Alan R. Booth is undoubtedly among the leading historians of Swaziland. This is well demonstrated in the high quality of organisation, presentation and historical explanation found in the Historical Dictionary of Swaziland. In this Dictionary, Booth shows his profound knowledge of history in Swaziland and how that history has continued to shape contemporary Swaziland. He presents the book with much understanding of, and sensitivity to, Swazi traditions as a historical force; and as such his analysis and criticism are situated in a convincing scholarly context. Booth also defers to other scholars; describing the work of Huw M. Jones, Biographical Register of Swaziland to 1902, as "indispensable" and Balam Nyeko's bibliography on Swaziland as "incomparable". Booth's Dictionary is of similar academic status as an outstanding piece of scholarship that will be invaluable to any researcher on Swaziland for a long time. The interpretation of Swazi history, contemporary developments and projections on the future of the country are refreshing and well grounded.
As a guide, the preliminary matter in the book is clearly set out. The Dictionary opens with a brief note and preview of the book and an evaluation of the author by the series editor, Jon Woronoff. Alan Booth follows with an erudite expression of debt to other scholars who influenced his labour in preparing the Dictionary. Both Woronoff and Booth leave the reader with a feeling of anticipation that it is worthwhile to go through the whole book. The anticipation is fully satisfied because Booth delivers what is promised. The preliminary matter also has a rich chronology of Swazi history. It clearly leaves no doubt about the stature of the scholar and the quality of the book. The orthography on Siswati and glossary of certain key words make it even more compelling to read. The glossary shows that the Swazi have a rich culture and history. There is an excellent bibliography (pp. 347-397) divided into ten easy to follow sections. This bibliography has an enduring merit as a beginning point for research on Swaziland which effectively compliments the masterly work of Balam Nyeko. Thus, Booth's Dictionary is a useful tool for teaching and research on Swaziland.
After the preliminary matter, the book is divided into two sections, namely, Introduction (pp. 1-26) and Dictionary (pp. 27-346). The Introduction sets out the historical context of the Dictionary. This Introduction is a concise summary of Swazi history. It is well written and has the unique distinction that specialist and non-specialist will find it easy to read and understand. However, the specialist will find more in the Introduction (and in fact, in the whole Dictionary). The Introduction is a refreshing historiographical essay. It is analytical, and oriented towards radical change in its mood. The analysis demonstrates how different social groups have emerged in Swaziland, especially in the period following huge capital flows into the country after 1945. The Introduction indicates, for example, how the Swazi middle class has influenced political change (such as causing King Sobhuza II to ban political parties in April 1973 when the political influence of this class appeared to be increasing), and has itself been influenced by Swazi national life (such as being politically indifferent and avoiding confronting the King who is a defining symbol of Swazi identity). Booth criticises the apparent withdrawal of the middle class from struggles that could promote democratic and popular governance in Swaziland. He also leaves no doubt that the gloomy picture facing Swaziland as we enter a new millennium could be positively transformed by the monarchy, which still commands considerable, though gradually waning, political power. Here Booth is discussing not just Swaziland, but a dilemma of postcolonial Africa. African leaders and their nations have often helplessly seen a decline of basic institutions of law and stability.
The Dictionary (pp. 27-346) is the main body of the study in which Booth identifies individuals, social movements and institutions, and a vibrant economy in Swaziland. A broad variety of individuals and institutions are listed and their contributions in the making of modern Swaziland are described in considerable and varying detail. The entries are presented alphabetically and occasionally spiced with references in the form of endnotes of some major works used. Thus, the Historical Dictionary of Swaziland has important information about who and which institutions have created modern Swaziland and it also contains a useful bibliography.
The Dictionary will provide a well-defined starting point for writing the next edition. There is no doubt that Booth's effort will be applauded. However, if the next edition happens to be written by a scholar who resided in Swaziland in the 1990s, many limitations of the present edition will be found because Alan Booth wrote most of the study while away from the country. While Booth may have accessed the Swazi press on the Internet, this must have been for a brief period. Had the book been previewed by a scholar resident in Swaziland before it was published, then many omissions or inadequately described entries and some serious factual mistakes could have been eliminated. I shall give one example of each of the limitations just identified. For example, Arthur R. Khoza (pp. 133-4) is discussed only up to 1988. However, in the 1990s, Khoza became a cabinet minister and eventually Deputy Prime Minister of Swaziland before the manuscript of this book was taken to the publishers. As Deputy Prime Minister, Khoza is managing the Tinkhundla System. This has been the form of Government in Swaziland since 1978 and is the successor and alternative to liberal democracy, which King Sobhuza II abolished in a decree in April 1973. This is one good example of an entry about which information is readily available that a scholar resident in Swaziland could have provided. A good example of a factual error that could have been avoided in a similar manner is the statement that the Swaziland Youth Congress (p. 311) was led by Mphandlana Shongwe. Bennedict Tsabedze was a founding leader and he remained in that position until his mysterious death in 1998.
These matters notwithstanding, Alan Booth has written an outstanding scholarly guide on Swaziland.
. Huw M. Jones, A biographical register of Swaziland to 1902. Pietermaritzburg : University of Natal Press, 1993; Balam Nyeko, Swaziland. Oxford; Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1994. Rev. ed.
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Ackson M. Kanduza. Review of Booth, Alan R, Historical Dictionary of Swaziland.
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