History of Manzini

History of Manzini

Manzini Arms

The City of Manzini, otherwise known as the hub of Swaziland, is the commercial mecca of the Kingdom of Swaziland. In fact, it is where the first economic and commercial activities of the Kingdom began over 100 years ago. Because of its central location, the city has over the centuries remained the most convenient trading zone for people coming from all four regions of the Kingdom. Despite a constantly growing population, the city’s security agents, including the Royal Eswatini Police, have over the years been able to ensure that the marvelous city is one of the safest to visit or live in.

When one holds a conversation with the older generation about Manzini, they have so much to say about the great strides that have over the decades been achieved, not only in terms of improving the face of the city but also giving it a warm and welcoming feel to visitors. When one descends upon the City of Manzini they are welcomed by a stunning scenic view characterized by green vegetation and modern buildings; not to mention the welcoming smiles from the thousands of people who cram the city on a daily basis for shopping, work, school and business.

The number of tourist coaches which descend the city almost on a daily basis is enough evidence on how Manzini has claimed her spot in the world map as a tourist destination. For people who are visiting the city for the first time, the municipal council here has in the past few years proven to be handy with regard to provision of tourism and general information about the city. Visit the City of Manzini and enjoy the beauty of a natural African city. Mingle and enjoy the warmth of the ever smiling people. Satiate your shopping appetite from the variety of shopping outlets which offer both modern and traditional products. You also have the option of spending the night or more in the city, making use of its excellent accommodation facilities which also offer guests an haute cuisine. Visit Manzini, have a feel of the true spirit of Africanism, the spirit of ubuntu”.

First capital of Swaziland - 1890

When white settlers descended the Swazi territory they settled in what is today known as Manzini, then nothing more than just a veld with one homestead situated by the Umzimnene River belonging to one Manzini Motsa. As more white people came in to seek concessions, the then ruler of the territory King Mbandzeni gave them permission to set up their own governing body specifically to handle issues related to them (settlers). As they set out to set up an administrative government they bought a store which was owned by one Arthur Bremer (one of the first white settlers to start commercial activity in the area) and the condition of sale was that the administrative capital should be named after him hence the area became known among the settlers as Bremersdorp. “Dorp” being Afrikaans name meaning agricultural town. However, native Swazis preferred to call the place “kaManzini”. Since 1890, the Transvaal colonial government’s activities were run from that building hence Bremersdorp becoming the first administrative capital of the Kingdom.

Why the name "Manzini"?

Although none has been confirmed, there are three versions given;

  • Swazis referred to white settlers as people “from the water” because they arrived through the sea. Note: The direct translation for “Manzini” is “water”.
  • Swazis preferred the name “Manzini” because Bremer’s store had a river front (the Umzimnene River). Swazis said “on the water” (emanzini) when referring to Bremer’s store.
  • Upon settling in the territory, Bremer and his partner W. Wallerstein purchased land near the Umzimnene River close to a homestead belonging to one Manzini Motsa. Therefore, Swazis preferred to say “kaManzini” when referring to Bremer’s store.

First town to have a Hotel

Bremer’s commercial activity prospered with the store being used as a wholesaler to supply goods to other traders. In view of the increasing number of white settlers coming down to Bremersdorp, he decided to build a hotel near the store. The hotel was built out of corrugated iron sheets. The hotel only provided basic hotel services.

Bremersdorp declared a town - 1892

As more and more white settlers descended Bremersdorp for various reasons and activity was on the rise, some decided to stay as permanent settlers. In 1898, Bremersdorp was declared a town and, henceforth, private plots began to be sold. In no time, Bremersdorp was characterized by small wooden homes scattered around the town in a haphazard fashion.

Roll-out of town services begins - 1891

The colonial government bought out Bremer from the hotel and constructed an International Hotel which offered improved services. Postal services were introduced in the small town in 1891. In 1897, a local branch of the Republic of South Africa’s National Bank was opened. On June 5, 1897 Allister Miller began a weekly broadsheet (newspaper) called the “Times of Swaziland”. Seven years later, Bremersdorp had a school, church building, court house, gaol, post and telegraph office, a photograph studio and a number of social entertainment places.

Danford's first town plan - 1890

White settler, DJA Danford, drew a sketch of the first town plan. Some of the streets in today’s Manzini are a result of his proposed street system. Danford’s town plan also included a centrally located park (today’s Jubilee Park) which was named “The Freedom Square” in 1897. (The park earned the name “Freedom Square” because it was used as the venue for celebrations of Britain Queen Victoria’s 60th Diamond Jubilee).

Hut Tax Introduced - 1898

Bremersdorp was strictly a territory for white settlers. Swazis lived in the outskirts in places called “emakhaya”. However, the Swazis were not sparred from paying taxes imposed by the white administrative government. Every Swazi was made to pay a10 shillings Hut Tax plus a six pence Road Tax. Most Swazis had to sell some of their treasured cattle to afford these taxes.

Colonialists suspect Swazi Uprising -1898

There was a period when Swazis suspected that malicious supernatural forces were at work among themselves and a number of witch-hunt activities ensued. These events culminated in the killing of King Bhunu’s Chief Indvuna, Mbhabha Sibandze and his two attendants on 9th April 1898. The colonial government, led by President Kruger of the Transvaal, took advantage of the turmoil among Swazis and attempted to abolish the office of Paramount Chief, as King Bhunu was called.

British intelligence believed there was conspiracy between King Bhunu and Zulu King Dinizulu to stage an anti-whites uprising. The colonialists summoned King Bhunu, who lived in Zombodze, to Bremersdorp for a hearing whose purpose was to ascertain his role in the killing of Mbhabha. Worth-noting is that the reports of a planned uprising were false but this action almost ignited the feared uprising.

King Bhunu put on trial under a tree in Bremersdorp -1899

King Bhunu arrived for a hearing in Bremersdorp on Saturday morning, 21st May 1899.He testified that Mbhabha had been killed because he was a threat to the Swazi nation. The colonialists saw reason to put the King on trial charged with murder. The trial took place on 5th September 1899 under a tree at the site where in today’s Manzini stands the LaMvelase HIV & AIDS Clinic. The trial established that there was nothing personally linking King Bhunu with the killing but that it was a collective resolve of the Swazi nation hence he was acquitted. However, he died a year later. At the time, the Swazi population was between 40 000 and 50 000 people and there were only 1 400 Europeans.

Whites vacate Bremersdorp - October 1899

Hostilities broke out between the British Empire and the Boer Republic of South Africa. Fearing that war might overlap into Swaziland, all Europeans were ordered out of the country. This happened just three weeks after the colonial government had started laying the foundation for new government offices on the site where today’s Manzini has the George Hotel. Most of the Europeans fled to a nearby Portuguese territory (today’s Mozambique) for cover.

With the whites gone, there was no sight of the Times of Swaziland newspaper, the National Bank ceased operations with the building remaining locked, the small town was generally reverting to velds, weeds sprouted in the gardens of deserted homes, tall grass grew on the town’s dirt roads, the International Hotel ceased operations, there was no church activity. In essence, Bremersdorp had turned into a ghost town.

Bremersdorp goes into flames - July 1901

In July 1901 the Republic of South Africa’s Boer General, Tobias Smuts, travelled back to Bremersdorp, captured 33 men and ordered that the town be set on fire. In no time the International Hotel exploded, the school, church building, bank, photographer’s studio, newspaper’s office, general dealers, homes and almost all other features of the town went into smoke.

Mbabane becomes the new administrative capital - July 1901

When the Anglo-Boer war came to an end in May 1902 with the British emerging victors, they returned to Swaziland as the Kingdom’s protectorate. However with Bremersdorp burnt into ashes, the new British settlers preferred the highveld as the new administrative capital; reasons being:

  • The new authorities preferred the cold, misty Highveld to Bremersdorp’s warm climatic conditions.
  • They feared Bremersdorp was too close to the Lowveld’s Malaria belt.

Bremersdorp rises from ashes

Micheal Coates, a white settler, who before the war had set up a home and had other properties in today’s Coates Valley before the war led a strong delegation to urge the British to retain Bremersdorp as the administrative capital. However, the effort was in vain. Notwithstanding the negative response, the small town was rebuilt although with more emphasis put on commercial activity (agriculture instead of bureaucracy, business instead of government ministries). Its central location, wide open spaces promised unlimited potential for development.

Bremersdorp electrified, First traffic light - 1920's

Bremersdorp became the first town to be electrified. One Mickey Reilly, former manager of a tin mine near Mlilwane, bought the 50kva turbine which had been used at the mine and used it to generate hydro electricity. He built a hydro power plant near the Umzimnene River at the site where today’s Manzini has the Swaziland Milling. The electrification sparked further growth in the small town. In 1928, the South African Railway Administration introduced motorized coaches (buses) in Bremersdorp. To bring people to and from South Africa, the Motor Transport Service (MTS) chose the ideal Bremersdorp, as opposed to Mbabane, as its central depot.

Henceforth like Rome, all bus routes led to Bremersdorp hence the name “Hub of Swaziland”. A native eatery was opened and was frequented by Swazis working in town and those who were on transit to South Africa. Swazis seeking employment in South African mines were recruited from Bremersdorp by a South African company. In 1930, two industries had been opened in Bremersdorp; the Swaziland Power House and the Swaziland Printing and Publishing Company. A number of church buildings, schools, services outlets such as the post office and police station. Various businesses and shops of different shapes and sizes surfaced, some of the town’s roads were paved.

In 1961, the town’s name was officially changed from Bremersdorp to Manzini. The first street light began to regulate traffic in 1983, located at the foot of President street (now Ngwane Street) near the Umzimnene River. In 1971, old colonial street names were changed under the leadership of a Town Council which had been established in the late 1960s.

Dr David Hynd's role in Bremersdorp - 1925

Dr David Hynd had arrived in Swaziland from Scotland in 1925 and four years later, he noted an influx of inhabitants into the fast growing Bremersdorp particularly due to the transport services leading to Manzini. He was working as the Medical Superintendent of the Nazarene Hospital and also as Medical Officer for Bremersdorp. He noted that white residents crowded into dilapidated houses which were a disgrace to civilization. He was equally appalled by Swazis living in quarters worse than the ordinary huts found at the emakhaya.

Swazis lived in crowded unhygienic grass huts at a time when diseases like cholera threatened the town’s well-being. People who arrived late by bus had no accommodation and had to sleep under trees. Dr Hynd campaigned for better hygienic conditions for all so to combat attacks of the deadly typhoid fever, malaria and other infectious diseases. In 1921 he was appointed to a committee which was to supervise growth of the town and further create townships.

Zakhele declared first township for African Swazis - 1929

Things took shape in Bremersdorp, however African Swazis were forbidden from living in it under the 1912 Urban Areas Proclamation hence no Swazis lived in town save for a few who were employed as domestic servants, gardeners, shops and hotel labour. In view of the rising rural-urban migration with more Swazis coming to town to seek employment and to source other town services, Zakhele was set up and declared a township for African Swazis in 1929. Other townships were later declared. Ngwane Park township was declared an urban area in 1963.Two years later, Fairview township was established and began selling residential plots.

Manzini declared a city - 1992

In 1992 King Mswati III declared Manzini a city and, ever since, development in the city has been growing in leaps and bounds under the professional guidance of the City Council. Recent developments include Manzini’s first mall (Bhunu Mall) which stands on the same site where there used to be the MTS bus station. The MTS bus rank had ceased operating following construction of another bus rank when a host of Swazi-owned bus services began operating.

Manzini Today

Location Southern Africa, bordered by Mozambique to the east and the remainder by South Africa. Centrally located in the Manzini region, about 10km from Matsapha and about 35km from Mbabane.
Size 2,680 hectares
Number of Townships 33 [including Central Business District]

Economic Development

Economic activities are largely confined in the Central Business District (CBD) and there is less activity in the surrounding townships. Activities comprise financial services (banks), retail and wholesale outlets of different sizes, transport services, filling stations, offices, service industries especially workshops and warehouses. The minimum wage is at par with that of Mbabane, the capital city. Banking services comprise four commercial banks and one building society. Recent years saw the birth of large shopping centres, the Bhunu Mall, The Hub and the Carson Centre near Moneni which is more inclined towards automobile services. The most recent (year 2011) has been the towering Riverstone Mall which is undoubtedly the pride of Swaziland. It was closely followed by the Matata Shopping Centre in Moneni which opened later on in the year.

Social Development

Manzini is littered with health centres with the main public facility being the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial (RFM) Hospital which is co-funded by the Nazarene Mission and central government. Another large facility, although private, is located near the eastern boundary of the city named “Manzini Clinic”. Most recently, a women and children hospital opened within the city centre while another facility operates within the towering Inyatsi House in Zakhele. There is also the St Theresa’s and Sobhuza clinics while the Municipal Council recently opened an outpatient primary health care clinic within its civic office premises. This followed another Council baby named “LaMvelase Help Centre” which specializes on HIV and AIDS related illnesses. A host of other private clinics and pharmacies are littered throughout the CBD.


Education facilities comprise government owned, community and mission or church schools and a number of private schools. The schools offer primary, secondary and high schools. There are eight non-private primary schools and three recognized private primary schools within the urban area. Eight schools provide secondary and high school education. Seven tertiary institutions have over the years found home in Manzini including teacher training facilities, a nursing college and vocational training centres.

Entertainment Leisure

When it comes to night life, all roads lead to Manzini. Night clubs and other places of entertainment come into life from Thursdays to Sundays of every week. A host of other places of entertainment and leisure exist in the city.

Sports and Recreation

Manzini city is home to yet another pride of Swaziland; the recently opened state-of-the-art Mavuso Sports Centre. It is home to a variety of sporting facilities including soccer, basketball, volleyball, aerobics and gymnastics, swimming, athletics, squash and many more. This facility is abuzz with activity every day of the week. Other facilities are spread throughout the city including the popular Old Trade Fair ground, Zakhele sports grounds, Bosco Skills Centre, as well an 18-hole golf course which is managed by the Manzini Country Club. The Club itself is home to a variety of entertainment and leisure activities. Other smaller sporting facilities exist in the townships.

The Municipal Council

The Municipal Council of Manzini is responsible for managing as well as providing maintenance and other services to the city. It is also responsible for guiding development in the city. The city is governed by a Council made of 12 democratically elected Councillors who work part-time. The city’s administration is co-ordinated by the Town Clerk who executes his duties through six departments, namely; Engineering (responsible for maintenance of Council infrastructure including roads, traffic lights, street and high mast lights, parks and gardens, cemeteries and other Council open spaces, Council properties etc); Environmental Health and Social Welfare (responsible for environmental health, sanitation and the social welfare of city dwellers. It also handles the primary health care services of Council); Planning and Community Development (responsible for ensuring guided development and control of land use in the city.

It is also responsible for empowering city communities with information and skills with an aim to improve their socio-economic well-being); Treasury (responsible for collection of Council revenue and guide expenditure); Human Resources (responsible for the recruitment of staff and taking care of their general welfare); Clerk to Council (handles legal and security matters of Council); and Town Clerk (responsible for co-ordinating all the departments as well as provide public information to city citizens and  stakeholders. Council’s internal audit function is also under the same department. Council currently has about 300 staff members under her employ – both permanent and contract employees. The annual city budget is in the region of E80 million to E100 million but it fluctuates depending on departmental financial requirements and inflationary factors.

Available Services in The City


The city has less formalized tourism facilities compared to the nearby Malkerns and Ezulwini valleys which are the tourism mecca of Swaziland. The city of Manzini’s current tourist draw card is the Manzini Market which sells a variety of colourful and skillfully crafted products. The market is also home to a variety of traditional medicine and traditional doctors, a darling to most tourists. Every Thursday of the week hundreds of women from all angles of the Kingdom converge in the city (currently at the not-yet-operational satellite bus rank, south of the city) to sell a variety of hand-made products. Tourist coaches are a common feature on this site. The annual week-long Swaziland International Trade Fair, which is held in the city, attracts thousands of companies and businesses of different sizes and shapes which converge at the Mavuso Trade and Exhibition Centre to showcase their products and services. This event attracts thousands of citizens as well as tourists who derive pleasure in mingling with the warm and friendly citizenry. The fair is held on August of every year. Tourists who wish to spend the night in the city are spoilt for choice on the number of Bed & Breakfast, guest houses, lodges, back packing and hotel facilities available in the city. Manzini also has a number of structures which are of historical significance to the city. However, most of them have not yet been formalized as tourist sites.

Historical Sites

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