In 1881 the Pretoria Convention established British suzerainty over the youthful republic of the Transvaal, a matter which would be disputed for the next twenty years or so. A small part of this agreement was a guarantee of the independence of the Kingdom of Swaziland, the sanctity of Swaziland’s borders and the sovereignty of the Swazi peoples in their country. It didn’t quite work out that way: in practice Swaziland was reduced in size and a considerable number of Swazi people were rendered non-citizens of the Transvaal.
In 1884 the London Convention affirmed Swaziland’s independence and system of government but again more land was carved from Swazi sovereignty and more Swazis were lost to the hungry depredations of the Witwatersrand labour market. In December 1894 Britain and the by- then independent Transvaal signed the Third Swaziland Convention. This convention paid lip service to Indigenous sovereignty and independence but Swaziland was effectively made a protectorate of the Transvaal Republic and would remain so until the defeat of the Boer republics in the second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
During this time, the last years of the nineteenth century and the early days of the twentieth, in the scramble for Africa, conventions were not the only documents at work. Many now forgotten pieces of paper affected the destiny of Swaziland. There were treaties, concessions, contracts, proclamations, maps, surveys, censuses and the myriad other paper tools used by the British colonial regimes and the Boer republics to steal and fence much of what was thought to be of value in Swaziland.
The Swazis called this “the time when documents killed us.”