Queen Labotsibeni: Stateswoman, Revolutionary and Pioneer

On the 5th of December 1925, Queen Labotsibeni passed away.

Born in 1858 at eLuhlekweni northern Swaziland, Labotsibeni was a Princess of the Mdhluli section of the Swazi Nation. She was the wife of Ngwenyama Mbandeni and mother of Bhunu Heli Mahlikhlo Ngwane III and grandmother of King Sobhuza II. She was proclaimed the Ndhlovukazi (Queen) after the death of her husband in 1889 and ruled for 36 years, first as the Queen mother and then as the Queen Regent as Sobhuza was too young to rule.

Queen Labotsibeni at the Long March to Freedom in Pretoria.

Labotsibeni’s ascension to the throne was rather atypical as Swati traditional laws did not allow a woman in her situation to rule. Second, her clan, Mdluli, was not next in line to rule Swaziland. In spite of this, she was chosen because of “her outstanding intelligence, ability and character and experience.” Also known as Gwamile (meaning the indomitable one) she was acknowledged by many representatives of Britain as one of the cleverest rulers in Africa, a shrewd diplomat who bravely led and defended Swaziland.

During her reign she tried to regain tracts of land that her husband had lost to European settlers by raising 40 000 pounds to buy it back, however she was not successful. Her campaign coincided with protests against South Africa’s 1913 Natives’ Land Act. In solidarity, Labotsibeni contributed to the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) 1914 delegation to Britain to protest the act. In 1921 she and Crown Prince Sobhuza, later King Sobhuza II, financed and co-founded the Abantu-Batho newspaper, the mouthpiece of the SANNC. A strong African nationalist, the Regent had registered the infant Prince Sobhuza as a member of the ANC at its inception in 1912.

A rainmaker and one of the richest women in South Africa, she was not known to wear European clothes although the Queen of England is said to have sent her many. This was perhaps a sign of her Africanism and being grounded in tradition. She died in Swaziland at the age of 80.

We remember this great woman and icon of the struggle for freedom today at the Long March To Freedom.

References

Christison, G. 2007. African Jerusalem: The Vision of Robert Grendon. PhD Thesis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, pp.773 and 774.

Ginindza, T. 1996. Labotsibeni/Gwamile Mdluli: The Power Behind the Swazi Throne, 1875-1925, Annals, New York Academy of Sciences, pp.135-158.

Mkhonza, S. 2012. Queen Labotsibeni and Abantu-Batho. In: Limb, P. ed. 2012. The People’s Paper: A Centenary History and Anthology of Abantu-Batho. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.

Mokoatsi.Thapelo ‘Pioneers: Swazi Queen labotsibeni’ http://www.thejournalist.org.za/pioneers/pioneers-swazi-queen-labotsibeni\

Skota Mweli. T. D. The African Yearly Register: Being an illustrated national biographical dictionary (who’s who) of Black folks in Africa  (c.1930)