The death of King Sobhuza II of Swaziland comes at a time when the tiny, oval-shaped kingdom is playing perhaps its most controversial role in the affairs of southern Africa.
The small nation of about 500,000 has managed over the years to maintain a delicate balancing act - remaining in the good graces of the rest of black Africa while not antagonizing white South Africa, which borders it on three sides.
Maintaining that balance will be the toughest task facing King Sobhuza's successor, particularly in light of new plans for Swaziland to incorporate a huge chunk of land and a large number of blacks from South Africa.
The plan violates one of the tenets of the Organization of African Unity, of which Swaziland is a member, which prohibits tampering with territorial boundaries in Africa even though they are generally agreed to be imperfectly drawn. Even more controversial, Swaziland has been pictured as an accomplice in Pretoria's ''homelands'' policy of removing blacks from ''white'' South Africa by going along with the proposed incorporation. Whether this ultimately jeopardizes its relations with black Africa remains to be seen.
Still, the incorporation plan represents what many analysts see as the logical culmination of King Sobhuza's policy throughout his 61 years on the throne. His tenure was marked by a consistent quest to regain land that had fallen under white control and to reunite the Swazi people. From Swaziland's point of view, the announcement earlier this year that South Africa would cooperate in a major way with this aim was a clear victory for the king.
Swaziland is a constitutional monarchy, and it is unclear who will succeed King Sobhuza. The new ruler will most likely be chosen by an inner family council.