Despite subdued growth in the latter 1980s and early 1990s, a period much influenced by the economic problems and then political change in South Africa, Swaziland has, over the longer period, one of the best growth records in Africa, and has pursued liberal policies towards foreign and private investment – especially in mining and industry – since independence in 1968. GDP grew by 6.7 per cent p.a. 1980–90 and 3.4 per cent p.a. 1990–2000.
Its vulnerability lies in heavy dependence on soft drink concentrate and sugar cane, and on South Africa, which provides imports, investment and employment. It does, however, have established wood pulp, fruit-canning, and clothing and textiles industries, and manufactures a variety of consumer goods, including refrigerators, footwear and plastic domestic goods.
There is dual administration of Swaziland’s official financial assets. Those of the Swazi nation, comprising communal land resources (known as Swazi Nation Land) and minerals, are managed by Tibiyo TakaNgwane, an institution created by royal charter in 1968 and not responsible to Parliament. The modern economy is managed by the government, but there is an increasing demand, backed by the unions, for far-reaching economic reform.
The economy grew well in the late 1990s but growth was generally slower in the 2000s, due to the deteriorating investment climate, erosion of trade preferences, declining competitiveness, weak institutional capacity and devastation of the workforce by HIV/AIDS. Average GDP growth was 2.6 per cent p.a. in 2000–08. In response to the world economic downturn of 2008–09 Swaziland’s economy slowed in 2009–10 and underwent a small contraction in 2011, before returning to growth of about two per cent p.a. in 2012–15.