“Sweet Is the Work in Swaziland,” Ensign, Mar. 1992, 76–77
Known as “the Switzerland of Africa” for its scenic beauty, the small but diverse mountain kingdom of Swaziland is also an oasis of faith. Many native Africans of this predominantly Christian country surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique are accepting the message of the restored gospel.
The recent entry of the Latter-day Saint Church in Swaziland adds a further dimension to a nation already diverse in its blending of rich African culture and modern technology.
True to its heritage of peaceable rule, Swaziland has been free of conflict, both tribal and otherwise, despite turmoil in other southern African countries. Nine out of 10 of its nearly 1,000,000 inhabitants are native Africans. The nation is governed by one of the three traditional monarchies left on the continent.
Sobhuza I, a beloved Swazi king in the early 1800s, once dreamed of a white people with “hair like cattle tails, carrying a book and money pieces.” He advised his people to never harm the missionaries and to accept the book (the Bible) but to refuse the corrupting money. Recently, a descendant of Sobhuza I, Robert Dlamini, was the first Swazi to accept another witness of Jesus Christ—the Book of Mormon.
It was a big change for Brother Dlamini to leave his country to study mining management in Cardiff, Wales. But a bigger change than that lay ahead. He joined the Church in Wales in 1979 and returned home an elder—the only Latter-day Saint in Swaziland.
In 1990, Brother Dlamini was surprised to meet a fellow Latter-day Saint and learn that a branch of the Church in the capital city of Mbabane had been holding meetings since 1988. He eagerly began attending church and soon baptized his wife and daughter. Things looked bleak for the Dlaminis, however, when the granite quarry he had managed for six years closed. But they have apparently stood the test: one year later, Brother Dlamini was called to serve in the Mbabane branch presidency, and today he and his family eagerly await the imminent reopening of the quarry.
The first branch of the Church in Swaziland was created in 1986, branch members being a small group of non-African Latter-day Saint residents who had been holding cottage meetings for two years. The first two missionaries to serve in Swaziland were Kenneth and Betty Edwards of Utah, who arrived in 1987, the year the Church there was given legal recognition.
In February 1990, Elder Neal A. Maxwell dedicated Swaziland for the preaching of the gospel, and one year later there were more than 100 members led by three native Swazi branch presidents: Gerome Shongwe, William Malaza, and Eric Malwinga.
R. J. Snow, a former president of the South Africa Johannesburg Mission, once described the Swazi Saints as “spiritually sensitive” and “strong and vibrant,” warmly embracing the restored gospel.
A recent convert, Daniel Mnisi, is not bothered when some people scold him for believing in a book besides the Bible. “I know we have enemies,” he says. “But I have no problem, for I have the truth.” Anna Madonsella gained a similar testimony when, lying sick in a hospital, missionaries gave her a Book of Mormon. Although the nurses tried to dissuade her, Anna began reading the book. Then she prayed about it with the missionaries and felt a strong witness of its truthfulness. “[The Book of Mormon] is true,” she said. “No matter what anyone else says, I know in my heart it is true.” She was later baptized.
One challenge is that many people who want to attend church live far away. Joseph Malindzisa, an executive for a wood pulp mill, brings a truckload of members to church. His hardest challenge is that he is unable to squeeze in the many friends of other faiths who are “eager to come to church.” He is trying to organize rides for them. “I feel that whatever we can do to help our branches grow, we must do.”
Members like Trusty Jones and Goodness Egobese walk four miles to and from church. For them, it’s worth the effort. “I don’t know where I would be without [the Church],” says Sister Jones, a single mother and Relief Society president. “The gospel has changed my life.” Sister Egobese agrees. The mother of 11 children, she is an enthusiastic member missionary, sharing her newfound joy with her neighbors.
The Church in Swaziland is yet in its infancy, but that doesn’t mean that its members haven’t come a long way. “The Church has done a lot for me spiritually and temporally,” says David Nagai, echoing the sentiment of other pioneering Swazi Saints. He has felt joy in knowing that “God has a plan for all people on earth. My questions and prayers were really answered. I have a testimony of the Church and of Jesus Christ.”