Excerpts from "A Traveller's Guide to Swaziland" by Bob Forrester.
CARS and DRIVING
Index to information in the guide
Traditionally the Swazi have lived in beehive shaped huts, dome-like constructions of grass on a frame of saplings. To begin with, walls were not built and the circular roof extended to the ground and the grass covering was held together by a net of woven grass. This netting has gradually been reduced until the only remnant is now found on the apex of the roof, if it is present at all. These huts were ideally suited to the climate - warm in winter, cool in summer and waterproof.
The fire was lit inside the hut and the smoke had the advantage of killing insects, but it also caused quite severe eye problems. The huts of one family were built fairly close to one another, with the number of huts increasing according to the wealth of the family. However, the amount of work needed to build and maintain these huts has caused them to virtually disappear and be replaced by a hybrid style of hut with walls and a grass cone-shaped roof, or walled square huts with a tin roof. Today, the art of building the beehive hut is in danger of being lost.
For centuries a reed enclosure discouraged wild animals while the domestic animals would have been kept close by, fenced in by a barricade of thin logs driven into the ground. Often these logs or branches were cut from the Umsinsi or Erithryna tree and in a few short weeks much of the barricade would begin to sprout to form a living fence. A fine replica of a traditional village has been created at Mantenga Nature Reserve, well worth visiting, it is on the Handcraft Route.
Colonial architecture also started with basic huts, often with corrugated iron roofs and walls. Corrugated iron was invented in the 1870's and quickly became popular in the country as roofing material. Early colonial houses frequently had a central core with a surrounding verandah, corrugated iron roofs and waxed, red cement floors. This style degenerated into standard Southern African box shaped houses after the Second World War and continues up to the present as being the cheapest form of Western housing in the region. These houses typically have a rectangular floor plan and an iron roof of a pitch similar to that of airplane wings. The roofs not only are of a similar pitch to airplane wings but they also act in a similar way. High winds create lift and the entire roof then comes off the house more or less of a piece.
In pre-independence days, Manzini and Mbabane were similar to many small South African country towns or dorps, apart from having many more trees, but they have now grown appreciably. Large multi-storey buildings have appeared, shopping centers have been built and a band of huts and homesteads have sprung up around the outskirts of the towns.
In the last decade a new style of architecture has appeared in the region, houses with classical trim, though this is not in any way the language of Palladio. Instead it is buy-it-and-bolt-it-on classicism, the components are made of cast concrete and the moulds are quite crude, so much of the detailing is lost, just as the context has been. The result can often be surreal, with little rondavels with Doric or Corinthian columns supporting a tiny portico under which thin dogs recover from the midday sun. In pretentious housing estates, like Mantenga Estate, there are major mansions with carriage porticos and endless fat balustrades: but they are five meters away from the neighbour’s equally stately pile, instead of being carefully placed in a landscaped valley, often they are separated by a security fence with ornate razor-wire trim in rococco swirls. Mantenga is highly recommended if you are interested in architecture or anthropology, as is Beverly Hills in Mbabane.
The colonial era never indulged in classicism in Swaziland, yet forty years after independence the style most associated with colonialism has finally arrived, if in a different interpretation. For post-modernism in architecture, see Summerfields under the Accommodation entry. Various buildings of interest are mentioned in the recommended routes.