Thursday, January 24, 2019

Chaos and confusion across Swaziland as new school year starts

Schools in Swaziland / eSwatini face chaos and confusion as the new academic year starts. Teachers are to strike, the government cannot afford to finance education and many pupils face exclusion because they do not have official identity documents.

Schools were due to return on Tuesday (22 January 2019) but this was in doubt following an announcement from the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) that a series of union meetings would take place across the kingdom during the week. SNAT will also be joining a national strike of public service workers due for 28 January 2019.

They are in a long-running dispute with government over cost of living wage adjustments. Unions have asked for 6.5 percent but the government says it is broke and has offered zero percent.

Meanwhile, it is doubtful that the government can afford to pay schools the fees they need so they can operate. Government needs to find E151.9 million for the primary schools across the kingdom to fund free primary education (FPE). There are about 650 primary schools in Swaziland. The Swazi Constitution requires that all children in the kingdom receive free primary education. For eight years until last year the European Union had paid about E140 million a year toward the cost of FPE. 
Initially, the EU said it would fund FPE for all primary school pupils until 2016. After the initial period elapsed the financial support was extended until the end of 2018.

There are about 330,000 pupils at school in Swaziland, including about 240,000 at primary schools. The government pays a minimum of E560 per pupil for primary pupils.

Minister of Education and Training Lady Mabuza told the Times of Swaziland government did not yet have a plan to pay fees in the absence of the EU sponsorship. 

‘We’ve not engaged on the issue much but the EU stated that they were withdrawing last year and government has to take over,’ Mabuza said.

At the end of last year the Ministry of Education and Training had to pay more than E40 million to cover the cost of sending police and prison wardens into schools to invigilate examinations while teachers were in dispute. 

Meanwhile, many children will not be able to attend school because they do not have the correct documentation. Head teachers in many primary schools say they will not accept pupils who do not have Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) issued by the government.

Last year the government refused to fund pupils who did not hold PINs. The Ministry said to avoid audit queries it had to pay fees against a PIN not a name of a pupil.

There are also reports that schools will not receive much needed materials such as stationery because suppliers have not been paid. At primary school each child needs at least 14 exercise books and seven text books. One supplier located in Manzini told the Times of Swaziland his company was owed E300,000.

It is not clear whether the government has paid food suppliers. In the past two years children who relied on government food aid – known as the zondle programme – had gone hungry when bills were left unpaid.

The problems at schools do not end at primary level. An investigation by the Swazi Observer in January last year revealed that some high schools charged nearly E9,000 per child per year in top-up fees. It also found that some schools were not allowing children, including OVCs (orphaned and vulnerable children) to attend classes until deposits on fees were paid.

The Ministry of Education then announced that no school in Swaziland had been given permission to charge top-up fees because none had made the necessary formal request to do so. Permission can take up to a year.

Also last year children were turned away because there were no spaces for them in classes at High School. This was because the kingdom had in recent years introduced FPE and children had graduated and there were not enough places for them in secondary schools. Parents were reported by local media to be walking from school to school in unsuccessful attempts to get their children placed.

See also

Primary schools grinding to a halt

Swaziland schools in chaos

Children told ‘prepare for starvation’
End of free Swazi primary schooling

Monday, January 21, 2019

Swaziland chief bans alcohol. Shows how chiefs have complete control in area they rule

A chief in Swaziland / eSwatini has banned alcohol in his area. It is another example of how chiefs in the kingdom have complete control over their people.

The ban happened in Qomntaba. Chief Gasa waNgwane Dlamini issued the ban after youths allegedly got drunk and attacked elderly people with spears. 

Chiefs are appointed by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland. They rule in his name and have unlimited powers; sometimes literally of life and death.

The international news agency AFP reported a spokesperson for the chief saying, ‘The violent behaviour of drunk youths who spear and assault elderly people is the reason why the chief decided to ban alcohol.

‘In this area we have a problem of a high rate of drinking among youths caused by high unemployment.

‘This causes them to spend a lot of time drinking traditional concoctions and smoking dagga (marajuana).’

Chief Gasa waNgwane Dlamini was in the news ahead of Swaziland’s national election in September 2018. In April there was a campaign at Lavumisa that includes Qomintaba.

The Swazi Observer reported at the time people were angry at ‘the draconian laws imposed allegedly by the leadership of the area’. 

Lavumisa Chief Gasa WaNgwane’s main royal residence is Qomintaba. There are almost 16 mini-chiefdoms in Lavumisa, all which report to Qomintaba. Constituencies under Lavumisa include Sigwe, Somntongo and Matsanjeni South. 

The Observer reported, ‘There has been instability in the area with some of the residents, including close family members of the ruling household, questioning Gasa WaNgwane’s leadership style. It is said some of the close family members and residents no longer participate in activities organised by the leadership.’

Chiefs in Swaziland are appointed by King Mswati and wield tremendous power over their subjects. They can, for example, determine whether people are allowed to live in the area, or whether children can attend universities and colleges. In some cases they decide who lives and who dies as they are in charge of distributing international food aid to starving communities. About a third of the population of Swaziland receive food aid each year. 

Chiefs can and do take revenge on their subjects who disobey them. There is a catalogue of cases in Swaziland. For example, Chief Dambuza Lukhele of Ngobelweni in the Shiselweni region banned his subjects from ploughing their fields because some of them defied his order to build a hut for one of his wives.

Nhlonipho Nkamane Mkhatswa, chief of Lwandle in Manzini, the main commercial city in Swaziland, reportedly stripped a woman of her clothing in the middle of a street in full view of the public because she was wearing trousers.

In November 2013, the newly-appointed Chief Ndlovula of Motshane threatened to evict nearly 1,000 of his subjects from grazing land if they did not pay him a E5,000 (about US$500 at the time) fine, the equivalent of more than six months income for many in Swaziland.

In March 2017 the Swazi Observer reported the EBC told residents during a voter education exercise at Engwenyameni Umphakatsi, ‘it was not acceptable have elected politicians to behave as if they were above community leaders’.

It added, ‘Chiefs remain superior to any other person in communities as they are the administrative arm of His Majesty King Mswati III.’

See also 

Chief punishes residents with fine

Bullying chiefs rule in Swaziland

Friday, January 18, 2019

Woman, 36, in Swaziland beaten and ordered to leave home because she is not married

A 36-year-old woman in Swaziland / eSwatini was beaten by three of her close relatives and ordered to leave home because she had no job and was not married.

The case which was reported in local media shines a spotlight on the plight of women in the male-dominated kingdom ruled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The Times of Swaziland reported on Wednesday (16 January 2019) that the woman whom it named had been beaten by three close relatives, including a woman. They hit her in the face with a brick. The newspaper published a photograph of her with a swollen face.

The Times reported, ‘She was given strict instructions to leave the homestead and get employment or find a husband to marry her.’

The newspaper added she said, ‘she was being blamed for misfortunes by relatives at the homestead because she was not married’.

The case highlights the position of women in Swaziland where by tradition they are considered to be owned by their fathers or their husbands.

Women remain oppressed in Swaziland and a main reason for this is King Mswati III who rules as an absolute monarch, according to report on women in the kingdom published in 2016.

ACTSA (Action for Southern Africa) reported that despite claims that Swaziland was a modern country, ‘the reality is, despite pledges and commitments, women continue to suffer discrimination, are treated as inferior to men, and are denied rights.’

ACTSA added, ‘The King has demonstrated he is unwilling to change the status quo and promotes multiple aspects of the patriarchal society.’

In a briefing paper called Women’s Rights in Swaziland ACTSA said, ‘Swaziland has a deeply patriarchal society, where polygamy and violence against women are normalised, deeply unequal cultural and religious norms, and a male monarch who is unwilling to make any change. All this contributes towards the daily discrimination faced by women.’

Among discriminations against women highlighted by ACTSA were the high levels of girls dropping out of school. ACTSA reported, ‘Cultural gender norms dictate that women and girls provide the bulk of household-related work, including physical and emotional care. As a result, girls are under pressure to drop out from school, especially where there are few adults available to care for children and the elderly, for example, in child-headed households.’

ACTSA also highlighted that women lacked the legal rights to administer their own assets. It reported, ‘Most married women are denied equal status as legal adults: they cannot buy or sell property or land, sign contracts or conduct legal proceedings without the consent of their husbands. Many widows, denied the right to own land, are forced from their homes.’

Women also have few chances to find jobs. Swaziland was ranked 150th out of 188 countries in the world in the Gender Inequality Index, ACTSA reported. ‘Men control household resources and thus women remain dependent. This often results in women seeking alternative avenues for income, including transactional and commercial sex,’ it said.

In March 2018 the European Union in Swaziland began funding a three-year project called Supporting Women Empowerment & Equality in Swaziland (SWEES) to advocate for and support women’s rights in the kingdom.

In 2009 a report conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on behalf of the Swaziland Ministry of Economic Planning and Development found, ‘Unfortunately, the status of women is so lower than that of men, that she will not eat until everyone has eaten.’

During meal times, the women waited for the men and the youth to eat before they did. ‘Eating last also means that her choice of food is limited,’ the report said. ‘Traditionally, she does not consume milk and its products at her marital home, unless she earns permission through the offer of liphakelo beast by her husband.’ This is when the husband gives the woman a cow for her own use.

In September 2018 a report published by Afrobarometer found women’s rights continued to be ‘a challenging issue’ in Swaziland.

‘Violence and abuse are a major development concern in eSwatini profoundly affecting women and children,’ the report stated. 

About one in three women experienced some form of sexual violence as a child, and one in four experienced other forms of physical violence as a child.

After surveying 1,200 adults in Swaziland, Afrobarometer reported people thought the Swazi Government was doing well in promoting opportunities and equality for women but fewer than one in three (29 percent) of people thought that these had actually improved ‘compared to a few years ago’.

The survey suggested, ‘Strong majorities of the Swazi population support equal rights for women when it comes to land and work. About seven in 10 (69 percent) say women should have the same right as men to own and inherit land, and almost two-thirds (64 percent) disagree with the idea that men should have more right than women to jobs when employment is scarce.

‘However, when it comes to gender roles in the home, seven in 10 respondents (71 percent) prefer that a woman, rather than a man, take care of the household and children.’

See also

Rise in gender-based violence
Sex bill highlights culture issues

Shocking lives for Swazi women

Wives say husbands can rape them