Last Updated: Monday, 29 December 2014, 10:16 GMT

2010 Report on International Religious Freedom - Swaziland

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 17 November 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom - Swaziland, 17 November 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4cf2d064c.html [accessed 29 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

[Covers the period from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010]

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

There were a few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 6,700 square miles and a population of one million. Christianity is the dominant religion. Zionism, a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship, is the predominant religion in rural areas. An influential Roman Catholic and Anglican presence includes many churches, schools, and other infrastructure. The population is 40 percent Zionist, 20 percent Roman Catholic, 10 percent Muslim and 30 percent other, including Anglican, Baha'i, Methodist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Jewish. Muslims and Baha'is generally live in urban areas. Most immigrants from South Asia practice Islam.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. However, minority religious groups enjoyed fewer protections under traditional law and custom, which included traditional courts and the authority of approximately 250 chiefs. When religious practices conflicted with tradition and culture as defined by a chief, chiefs have raised community pressure against those religious groups. Before religious groups may erect religious buildings, they must consult the chiefs.

The constitution states that individuals have a right to "freedom of thought, conscience, or religion." The constitution protects the right to practice by providing for "[the] freedom [to] worship either alone or in community with others."

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Christmas. Although Easter Sunday is not officially considered a national holiday, persons who work on that day receive holiday pay.

Christian programming is available on both of the parastatal broadcast outlets, Swazi Broadcasting and Information Service (SBIS) and Swazi Television; however, government-owned television and radio stations do not grant non-Christian religious groups airtime for broadcasting, a common source of complaints from minority religious groups. These groups claimed that SBIS did not respond to their request letters, that the Ministry of Home Affairs or SBIS told them they must receive permission from the Conference of Churches, and that the Conference of Churches and relevant government officials ignored their requests for meetings.

The Council of Swaziland Churches, which includes the Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist churches and which split from the Conference of Churches in 1976, was unable to get radio airtime due to opposition by the Conference of Churches and the League of Churches. The three Christian umbrella organizations often had a contentious relationship due to differences on matters such as whether churches should take a stand on political problems or the inclusion of traditional beliefs in church doctrine.

Portions of the capital are zoned specifically for places of worship. Government permission was required for the construction of new religious buildings in urban areas, and permission was required from chiefs in rural areas. Religious groups that wished to construct new buildings could purchase a plot of land and apply for the required building permits. The government does not restrict religious groups with financial means from building places of worship.

The monarchy (and by extension the government) supported many Christian activities. It has become common practice for the king, the queen mother, and other members of the royal family to attend evangelical programs, including Good Friday and Easter weekend services. At such services the host church organization often extended the king an invitation to preach.

There is no legislation describing the organizational requirements of a religious group; however, the Protection of Names and Badges Act requires new religious groups or churches to register with the government upon organizing. To be considered "organized," the group must submit its application through one of the country's three umbrella religious bodies: the League of Churches, Conference of Swaziland Churches, or Council of Swaziland Churches. The government preferred newly formed churches to be referred and recommended by one of these bodies before the Ministry of Home Affairs considered its registration; however, the government allowed religious groups that do not belong to any of the three bodies to register. After one of these bodies has recommended an organization, the Registrar General's Office in the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs will register the organization. For indigenous religious groups, authorities considered proof of a religious leader, congregation, and a place of worship as grounds to grant organized status. Organized religious groups were exempt from taxation, although the government did not consider them tax-deductible charities.

Teaching religious knowledge was mandatory in primary school and an elective subject in secondary schools; although schools predominantly taught religion from a Christian perspective, the Ministry of Education included a multireligion component in the religious curriculum. The only organized religious youth clubs reportedly permitted to operate in schools were Christian. Voluntary school clubs conducted daily prayer services in many public schools.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were a few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Society often viewed non-Christian religious groups with suspicion, especially in rural areas. When news emerged in November 2009 that the United Arab Emirates was sponsoring a Muslim orphanage in, Christian religious leaders and members of the community sought to prevent its opening. The city council eventually approved the orphanage in an alternate location. Teachers often did not permit children wishing to attend Friday prayers at a mosque to leave school early.

Although Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Halls are present in other areas, adherents remained unable to build a church in Lomahasha due to opposition by the region's chief.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Search Refworld

Countries