Reaching the Nations International Church Growth Almanac

Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed
analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.


Reaching the Nations

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By David Stewart and Matt Martinich


Area: 17,364 square km.  Landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland is a small country in Southern Africa.  The terrain is mostly hilly and mountainous, increasing in altitude from lowlands in the east to higher mountains in the west.   Forests and grassland cover most of the landscape and are subject to tropical and temperate climates.  Drought is a natural hazard.  Environmental issues include soil erosion and degradation, fresh water scarcity, excessive hunting, and overgrazing.  Swaziland is divided into four administrative districts.

Population: 1,370,424 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.204% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 3.11 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 48.93 male, 48.39 female (2011)


African: 97%

European: 3%

Most Africans are Swazi.  The largest minority African group is Zulu. 

Languages: SiSwati (84%), Zulu (6.5%), Tsonga (1.6%), Other (7.9%).  English and siSwati are both official languages.  5 indigenous languages are spoken in Swaziland.  English is widely spoken as a second language.  No languages are spoken by more than one million speakers.  SiSwati is the only language with over one million speakers (1 million). 

Literacy: 81.6% (2003)


The Swazi people are believed to had arrived to Southern Africa before the sixteenth century from present-day Mozambique.  Conflict with the local Zulus forced the Swazis to retreat into the area of what is known today as Swaziland.  Under leadership of Mswati II, the Swazi established their southern borders with the Zulus in the 1840s.  Contact with the British occurred during the mid-nineteenth century and the Swazi appealed to the British for assistance repelling Zulu raids into Swazi territory.  The Swazi established a long-term relationship with South Africans and the British and South Africa administered Swaziland from 1894 to 1902 and the British from 1902 to 1968.  The British originally planned for Swaziland to be incorporated into South Africa, but intensifying racial discrimination and segregation in the mid-twentieth century prompted British authorities to prepare Swaziland to  become its own sovereign, independent nation.  Political instability occurred in the 1960s prior to independence in 1968.  The Swazi king Sobhuza repealed the constitution and dissolved parliament in 1973 allegedly because he believed that they were not compatible with the Swazi way of life and assuming all governmental powers.  A new parliament convened in 1979.  Swaziland has continued to struggle between monarchy rule and democratic government.  In recent years, the spread of HIV/AIDS has been prolific and at present infects up to 39% of the adult population.[1]


Swaziland is known for producing handicrafts and its traditional African way of life.  Agriculture and a mixture of traditional African and Christian beliefs are the primary influences on society.  Meat, pumpkins, corn, sorghum and beans are common foods.[2]  Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates are low compared to the world average.  Immorality is a serious problem.  Polygamy is less common than in nearby Africa countries.


GDP per capita: $4,500 (2010) [9.5% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.498

Corruption Index: 3.2

The small size and landlocked position of Swaziland has limited economic growth.  Agriculture employs 70% of the labor force but generates only about one tenth of the GDP.  Sugarcane is the primary crop.  Coal and wood pulp are major industries.  These and Soft drink concentrates are all major exports.  Swaziland is heavily dependent on South Africa, from which 90% of imports arrive and 60% of exports are destined.  Unemployment rates over 40% and 69% of the population living below the poverty line have resulted from a lack of foreign investment and economic development.  The economy is too developed and the people not poor enough to receive financial assistance available to other, less wealthy African nations.  Corruption is perceived as widespread, but not as pervasive as in some other African countries.   


Christian: 83%

Muslim: 10%

Other: 7%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  224,639

Seventh Day Adventists  5,487  16

Jehovah's Witnesses  2,793  83

Latter-day Saints  1,132  4


Christians account for the majority of the population.  A high amount of syncretism occurs with indigenous beliefs and Christianity, partially due to the small amount of European influence during British colonialism.  Half of Christians are Zionists, which combine Christian and indigenous beliefs.  20% of the population is Catholic.  Muslims are a visible minority.

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom and is generally upheld by the government.  The government has favored Christianity by recognizing Christian holidays as national holidays, permitting Christian groups to broadcast on radio, and allowing the teaching of Christian doctrine in schools.  Some Christian churches have a contentious relationship with one another but this appears to be politically rather than theologically motivated.  In order for a religious group to erect a house of worship they must obtain permission from local village leaders in rural areas and the government in urban areas.  Religious groups must register with the government to operate.  Societal abuse of religious freedom targets Muslims, who are often viewed with suspicion in rural areas.  There have been some isolated instances of village chiefs not permitting Jehovah's Witnesses to build meetinghouses.[3] 

Major Cities

Urban: 25%

Mbabane, Manzini, Big Bend, Mhlume, Malkerns, Nhlangano, Simunye, Piggs Peak, Siteki , Ngomane.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Three of the ten largest cities have an LDS congregation.  13% of the national population resides in the ten most populous cities. 

LDS History

The first Church members to live in Swaziland were non-Africans who arrived in 1984.  The first branch was organized in 1986 and government recognition for the Church was obtained in 1987.  A senior missionary couple arrived and the first baptisms of local Swazi members occurred the same year.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell dedicated Swaziland in February 1990.[4]  Swazi members were among the 5,000 who attended an area conference in Johannesburg in 1996.[5]  The South Africa Johannesburg Mission administered Swaziland until July 1998 when the country was transferred to the South Africa Durban Mission.[6]  Swaziland pertains to the Africa Southeast Area. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 1,287 (2010)

In 1990, there were 115 members and the entire branch was African except the branch president's family.[7]  Rapid membership growth occurred in 1990 with over 100 convert baptisms.[8]  There were 700 members in 1993 and 800 in 1997.  By 2000, membership stood at 814.

Slow membership growth occurred in the 2000s as membership reached 856 in 2002, 922 in 2004, 1,007 in 2006, 1,132 in 2008, and 1,287 in 2010.  Annual membership growth rates ranged from a high of 8.4% in 2010 to a low of 1.8% in 2002 and were generally 4-6% during this period.  Church membership generally increases between 40 and 100 annually.  Membership became entirely African after the last white family moved away in early 2009. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 4 Groups: 1

Non-Swazi members met as a group in the mid-1980s until a branch was organized in 1986.  In 1991, three new branches were organized due to rapid membership growth from the previous year.[9]  Swaziland was organized into a district under the jurisdiction of the Benoni South Africa Stake the same year.[10]  By 1992 there were five branches: The Ezulwini, Mazini, Mbabane 1st, Mbabane 2nd, and Nhlangano Branches.  During the mid-1990s the district was fully absorbed into the Benoni South Africa Stake and the two branches in Mbabane were combined to create the Mbabane Ward.  The Ezulwini Branch was also discontinued, leaving one ward and two branches in the country.  LDS congregations in Swaziland were transferred to the Durban South Africa Stake in 1998 and then the Hillcrest South Africa Stake when the latter stake was organized the following year.  The Mbabane Swaziland District was reorganized in February 2008 with four branches, one of which was a new branch in Ezulwini.  In 2010, LDS meetings commenced in the small town of GeGe in on a biweekly basis and later on a weekly basis as a group under the administration of the Nhlangano Branch.

Activity and Retention

200 attended the groundbreaking of the first Church built chapel in 1992.[11]  Swaziland experienced high retention and activity until after the mid-1990s.  Church attendance has rebounded since 2008.  In April 2009, sacrament attendance doubled for the Mbanane Branch from the beginning of 2008 to 213.  The Nhlangano Branch was established in the early 1990s and had only 18 attending Church meetings in early 2008.  By April 2009 sacrament attendance increased to 55.  The other two branches likely have between 50-100 active members.  Attendance at Mbabane Swaziland District conferences increased from 220 in February 2008 to 330 a year later.  Many were unable to attend due to transportation issues.  121 were enrolled in seminary and institute during the 2009-2010 school year.  Active membership is estimated to be no greater than 500, or 45% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Zulu

The Book of Mormon has been translated into Zulu along with basic missionary, priesthood, and relief society materials.  SiSwati translations of LDS materials include Gospel Principles and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith


The first Church built meetinghouse was dedicated in 1993.  Other meetinghouses are likely renovated buildings or rented spaces.

Public Health

Living conditions are poor and result in inadequate health care.  Illicit sexual relations have contributed to Swaziland having the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world at 26.1%.  The disease has also spread through contaminated needles, drug use, and birth to HIV-positive mothers.  Converts who are infected with HIV/AIDS and join the Church are less able to strengthen the Church in the long term due to the disease reducing their lifespan.  The rate of HIV/AIDS also threatens the safety of missionaries.

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 1993, members in South Africa visited and cared for orphans at a local hospital in Mbabane and also cleaned and planted trees by a Church meetinghouse.[12]  Missionaries in 2004 assisted in an Easter activity held for children who had parents die from AIDS.[13]  Thousands of boxes of food items were provided for drought relief in 2004.[14]  Swaziland was included in the Church's African campaign to eradicate measles by vaccinating children in 2006.[15]  The Church has provided neonatal resuscitation training.[16]


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church has not experienced any problems with proselytism in Swaziland.  Excellent opportunities exist for missionary work due to freedom of religion upheld by government. 

Cultural Issues

The high percentage of church goers in Swaziland presents a great opportunity for the Church to take advantage of a culture which encourages weekly Church attendance.  The large amount of syncretism between indigenous beliefs and Christianity may lead to misunderstandings of Church doctrines like baptisms for the dead since ancestor worship is practiced.  Polygamy is an issue missionaries watch for in teaching investigators since those involved in polygamous relationships cannot join the LDS Church without being divorced from all but one spouse.  Muslims may present a challenge to proselyte to due to differences in theology and culture.  Poverty and low standards of living present challenges for economic and financial stability among many but also provide opportunities for humanitarian and development work.  Casual sexual relations are common and present a cultural challenge for missionaries and local leaders to address.  The high percentage of the population infected with HIV/AIDS is a major concern which threatens to destabilize society and establishing a long-term LDS presence with full member families. 

National Outreach

The small population and size of the country provide the opportunity for the Church to conduct missionary work with a fewer number of outreach centers.  With the establishment of the Church in Mbabane, Manzini, Nhlangano, and GeGe, at least 62% of the urban population has a congregation of the Church.  A foundation for penetrating unreached areas of the country has been laid since out of the four districts in Swaziland, only the Lubombo District does not have a Church presence.  Most of the country is still unreached since the urban population accounts for only 25% of the national population.  Many living in cities with congregations likely are aware of the Church but unfamiliar with its beliefs and practices.

The reestablishment of the Ezulwini Branch indicates a significant step towards the Church recovering from past setbacks in establishing additional congregations in the 1990s.  A village between Mbabane and Manzini not found on most maps, Ezulwini is the most rural location which has an independent LDS congregation.  The establishment of a group in GeGe and the assignment of full-time missionaries in early 2011 is another positive development which may perpetuate additional rural villages opening for missionary work.  The assignment of missionaries to GeGe was a long and arduous process headed by senior couple missionaries as allocating proper housing and performing other preparations in accordance with mission standards was time consuming.  Additional rural locations will likely only open to missionary work as active members move out of cities with a Church presence and expanding national outreach will be accomplished most effectively if directed by local leaders and branch missionaries.  Accurate membership records may not exist in some of the branches, indicated by a massive re-ordination project in 2009 for men in the Church who did not have records for their priesthood ordinations.  The Nhlangano Branch has struggled, likely a result of its remote location, but has seen positive improvement in Sunday attendance the late 2000s and early 2010s.

Swazis also live adjacent to Swaziland in the South African province of Mpumalanga, where only two branches function in Nelspruit and KaNyamazane.  Members in Swaziland can play an important role in the greater establishment of the Church across the border in South Africa due to commonalities in culture and language.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The reassignment from the South Africa Johannesburg Mission to the South Africa Durban Mission combined with organization the Mbabane Swaziland District has helped alleviate inactivity and address convert retention problems.  The Church in Swaziland suffered a drop in member activity and growth after the rapid growth in the early 1990s.  It appears that the Church may have shifted focus from extending its influence to additional areas to gathering active membership, resulting in the combining of the district with stakes in South Africa and the discontinuance of two branches.  This move would likely not have occurred unless member activity and local leadership were unable to maintain the congregations established.  A drop in convert retention in the 1990s may have resulted in a drop in convert baptisms, which precipitated into stagnant growth for the following decade.

Recent changes in congregation organization and administration appears to have reversed stagnation in membership growth and begun to focus on expanding the Church's outreach in the country.  The large increase in district conference attendance of over 100 between 2008 and 2009 and consistent increases in enrollment in seminary and institute increasing from 74 in 2008 to 95 2009 and 121 in 2010 indicate greater dedication of local members to attend meetings, the reactivation of less active members, and the baptism and retention of new converts.  The large numbers of people attending Church meetings in Mbabane also indicates increased member activity and convert retention.  As members stay active and strengthen their knowledge of the Church's doctrines, greater opportunities will await for more rapid growth with higher retention.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Due to most of the population being Swazi, no problems integrating different ethnic groups into the Church have been reported.  This may become a greater issue if more minority groups, such as Zulus, join the Church.  Integration issues will likely be more cultural than language based due to the widespread use of English.

Language Issues

Due to English being the language of instruction in schools there has been a lesser demand for translations of Church materials and scriptures into siSwati.  Even though many speak English well enough to learn and worship, the Church will likely expand the body of siSwati translations of Church materials in order to reach the few who do not speak English and so that Swazis can hear and learn the gospel in their native language.  SiSwati speakers are the majority in the areas north and west of Swaziland in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa, which increases the need for more language materials. The small Tsonga speaking minority will likely not have any Church materials translations into Tsonga due to the very limited Church membership in Tsonga-speaking areas of South Africa where the majority of speakers live.

Missionary Service

The LDS Church in Swaziland appears partially sufficient in staffing its local missionary needs.  In 1990, there were six local members serving full-time missionaries.[17]  A year later seven local members were serving missions and 14 missionaries were serving in the country.[18]  12 elders and two senior couples were serving in the Swaziland Zone in 2008.


Priesthood leadership developed quickly after the Church's initial establishment.  In 1990, there were six members serving missions and the sole Mbabane Branch had local leadership serving as branch president counselors and other positions notwithstanding the first Swazi convert baptisms occurring three years previously.[19]  Local Priesthood was strong enough for a ward to be created in Mbabane in the 1990s.  Retention of priesthood holders may have lead to the dissolution of two of the branches during this time. 

At the creation of the Mbabane Swaziland District, a goal was set for the district to mature into a stake by 2010.  This goal was not achieved in 2010 as there remained only four branches in the country and fewer than the required 1,900 members for a stake to operate.  The organization of additional congregations and the consistent growth of active membership will be required for the establishment of a stake to become more likely.


Swaziland is assigned to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple district.  Local members began attending the temple in Johannesburg in the early 1990s in larger numbers.  Increased temple attendance was also reported in 2009.  Mission leadership has focused on reactivating and baptizing full families to have them sealed in the temple.  Travel to the temple is most more convenient for members than in many other African members due to close proximity to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Mission leadership has endeavored to make the district into a stake to increase the likelihood of a temple announcement for Durban, South Africa.

Comparative Growth

Most Southern African countries with less than five million people and had the Church's first establishment in the late 1980s or early 1990s and experienced membership and congregational growth comparable to Swaziland.  Botswana had nearly as many members, but two more congregations in 2009.  Lesotho had half as many members and two congregations.  Slower growth has likely come as a result of distance from mission headquarters and fewer mission resources dedicated to Swaziland between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s.  Other African nations that experience political and social turmoil limiting the number or any presence of fulltime missionaries have seen much stronger growth.  This may indicate that membership in Swaziland struggles to fulfill member missionary efforts.  The presence of only four congregations also points towards higher inactivity than most other African countries.

Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists have experienced modest growth in Africa in Swaziland comparable to Latter-day Saints.  These and other Christian denominations have likely been cautious with proselytism due to the high amount of syncretism between Christianity and indigenous religions.  The LDS Church heavily depends on foreign missionaries for outreach, which are difficult to allocate to remote areas with few to no members. 

Future Prospects

The greater allocation of missionary resources, added emphasis to local missionary efforts, steadily increasing seminary and institute enrollment, recent congregational growth, and accelerated membership growth generate a favorable outlook for LDS Church growth.  The Mbabane Branch will likely be divided to create a second branch since sacrament attendance has reached over 200 in recent years.  A second branch in Mbabane will greatly increase the likelihood of the organization of a stake within the coming decade.  National outreach will likely continue to slowly expand in the coming years and outreach may begin in Matsapha since it is one of the most populous unreached cities and likely has several members due to its in close proximity to Manzini.  Villages and urban center nearby Mbabane and Manzini appear favorable locations for expanding outreach due to close proximity to established LDS centers.  Greater numbers of LDS materials in siSwati appear forthcoming.

[1]  "Background Note: Swaziland," Bureau of Africa Affairs, 7 April 2011.

[2]  "Cuisine of Swaziland,", retrieved 6 May 2011.

[3]  "Swaziland," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.

[4]  Cook, Elder Darwin; Cook, Sister Maurine.  "Six lands are dedicated: 'New day dawning' in 2 small African mountain kingdoms," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990.

[5]  "5,000 attend conference in South Africa; example of growth of the Church, LDS Church News, 2 March 1996.

[6]  "Missionaries build home for family in southern Africa," LDS Church News, 11 July 1998.

[7]  Cook, Elder Darwin; Cook, Sister Maurine.  "Six lands are dedicated: 'New day dawning' in 2 small African mountain kingdoms," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990.

[8]  "In 'beautiful mountain kingdom' of Swaziland, 3 branches created, local leaders installed," LDS Church News, 16 March 1991.

[9]  "In 'beautiful mountain kingdom' of Swaziland, 3 branches created, local leaders installed," LDS Church News, 16 March 1991.

[10]  "New mission presidents," LDS Church News, 1 June 1991.

[11]  Mostert, Mary.  "'Angels are happy' for Swaziland event," LDS Church News, 11 July 1992.

[12]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 25 September 1993.

[13]  "Elder help 200 children," LDS Church News, 15 May 2004.

[14]  Weaver, Sarah Jane.  "Nature's blows softened by aid in Africa, Peru," LDS Church News.

[15]  Weaver, Sarah Jane.  "Measles initiative continues to fight disease in Africa," LDS Church News, 30 September 2006.

[16]  "Projects - Swaziland," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 6 May 2011.,13501,4607-1-2008-177,00.html

[17]  Cook, Elder Darwin; Cook, Sister Maurine.  "Six lands are dedicated: 'New day dawning' in 2 small African mountain kingdoms," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990.

[18]  "In 'beautiful mountain kingdom' of Swaziland, 3 branches created, local leaders installed," LDS Church News, 16 March 1991.

[19]  Cook, Elder Darwin; Cook, Sister Maurine.  "Six lands are dedicated: 'New day dawning' in 2 small African mountain kingdoms," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990.