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Swaziland - People

The majority of the population is ethnic Swazi, mixed with a small number of Zulus and non-Africans. Traditionally Swazis have been subsistence farmers and herders, but some now work in the growing urban formal economy and in government. Some Swazis work in the mines in South Africa. Christianity in Swaziland is sometimes mixed with traditional beliefs and practices. Most Swazis ascribe a special spiritual role to the monarch.

The country's official languages are SiSwati (a language related to Zulu) and English. Government and commercial business is conducted mainly in English. Some 40.6% of the population is under 14 years old, 55.6% is in the 1565- year range and 3.8% is over 65 years. The population growth rate is estimated at 0.25%, while life expectancy has been reduced from an average of 54 years to about 35 years, partly due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The literacy rate, which refers to those who have completed primary education, is estimated at 81.6%.

The population of orphaned and vulnerable children is estimated at over 110,000, more than one tenth of the total population, and life expectancy stands at less than 40 years.

Swaziland, a small, predominantly rural, landlocked country surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique, suffers from severe poverty and the worlds highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. A weak and deteriorating economy, high unemployment, rapid population growth, and an uneven distribution of resources all combine to worsen already persistent poverty and food insecurity, especially in rural areas. Erratic weather (frequent droughts and intermittent heavy rains and flooding), overuse of small plots, the overgrazing of cattle, and outdated agricultural practices reduce crop yields and further degrade the environment, exacerbating Swazilands poverty and subsistence problems.

Swazilands extremely high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate more than 28% of adults have the disease compounds these issues. Agricultural production has declined due to HIV/AIDS, as the illness causes households to lose manpower and to sell livestock and other assets to pay for medicine and funerals.

Swazis, mainly men from the countrys rural south, have been migrating to South Africa to work in coal, and later gold, mines since the late 19th century. Although the number of miners abroad has never been high in absolute terms because of Swazilands small population, the outflow has had important social and economic repercussions. The peak of mining employment in South Africa occurred during the 1980s. Cross-border movement has accelerated since the 1990s, as increasing unemployment has pushed more Swazis to look for work in South Africa (creating a brain drain in the health and educational sectors); southern Swazi men have continued to pursue mining, although the industry has downsized. Women now make up an increasing share of migrants and dominate cross-border trading in handicrafts, using the proceeds to purchase goods back in Swaziland. Much of todays migration, however, is not work-related but focuses on visits to family and friends, tourism, and shopping.

Having multiple partners of the opposite sex has been a practice long cultivated by many Swazi men. It is something that has traditionally been encouraged by Swazi culture. It emanates from the view that before a young man gets married he should choose a wife from among several girlfriends. The aim was to gauge a mans prowess in getting the attention of as many ladies as possible. Most men engage in this practice before they marry, and some continue with it even after marriage. This has been the case because Swazi culture does not necessarily encourage faithfulness among men. Only women are expected to be faithful to their partners.

Swaziland is a patriarchal society and some of the cultural practices are informed by patriarchal values which prevent women from controlling their bodies or deciding the terms on which they have sex. This is a major challenge in Swazi society as it makes girls and women more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Part of that is attributable to the fact that Swaziland is polygamous Mswati has 14 wives and economic hardship has led to a decline in legal marriages, especially in view of the need for men to provide their brides family with 15 to 17 cows. Swazis favour sex with multiple partners.

Swaziland has the worlds highest estimated prevalence rate of HIV-infected adults (26% of people aged 15-49). In addition, Swazilands TB incidence rate is the highest in the world, and 80% of TB patients are co-infected with HIV.

New HIV infections are declining and the HIV incidence rate among adults aged 18-49 is estimated as 2.38%, comprising of 1.7% and 3.1% amongst men and women, respectively (Swaziland Incidence Measurement Survey Study -SHIMS 2011). According to the preliminary report of the Swaziland HIV Estimates and Projections (2012), the annual incidence rate among 15-49 years is expected to reduce from 2.9% in 2011 to 1.9% in 2015, and new infections among children at 18 months of age are estimated to be 11% of all exposed children in 2012 from 19.6% in 2009. At ages 6-8 weeks, the country has virtually eliminated mother to child infections. According to the SHIMS (2011) the peak incidence of HIV infections is borne by women aged 18-19, 20-24 and 30-34 and men aged 30-34.

The epidemic presents a gender disparity, with prevalence being higher in women (38%), compared to men (23%). Analysis shows that the HIV epidemic is stabilizing and shifting to older populations.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:11:14 ZULU