1 June 2011
Swazi teachers demand king assets freeze
MBABANE — About 3,000 Swazi teachers marched to the South African and US embassies here Wednesday to appeal for an international asset freeze against King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch.
"We appeal to you to identify and freeze assets owned by the ruling elite and invested in the US resultant from their looting of our economy over the years," read the petition by the Swaziland National Association of Teachers.
The union appealed to Washington to ask the Group of Eight countries to also freeze assets of Mswati and his inner circle.
Mswati has drawn condemnation for his lavish lifestyle with 13 wives and more than 20 children.
Excluding the cost of overseas trips and refurbishing palaces, the royal family's budget allocation this year was 21 million euros ($30 million) -- 20 percent more than last year.
The angry teachers brought the capital Mbabane to a standstill in the first demonstration since pro-democracy protests in April were dispersed with water cannons and batons. This time police did not intervene.
"We are saying as Swazis it is enough! We are in a bus that is burning and we are kicking out the emergency window," union leader Sibongile Mazibuko told the crowd.
The United States is the country’s biggest donor, putting millions of dollars into the fight against AIDS in the country with the world's highest incidence of HIV.
"We remain partners with the Swazi government and people... We seek to strengthen key government institutions that uphold democratic values," said US embassy political adviser Craig Pike.
Teachers fear that Swaziland's lilangeni currency could be de-linked from the South African rand.
They petitioned the South African embassy for assurances on the currency peg and asked President Jacob Zuma "to intervene in helping Swaziland becoming a multi-party democratic state".
Last month Swazi Finance Minister Majozi Sithole warned the government could not ensure salaries would be paid beyond June.
His announcement enraged the country's 10,000 teachers.
"If government goes ahead and stops paying salaries, teachers will not go to school and the kids will eventually end up pointing the finger at government. They and their parents will take to the streets," said union member, Dominic Nxumalo.
Last month the International Monetary Fund warned Swaziland needed to cut 24 million euros from its wage bill.
Civil servants union flatly reject government attempts to negotiate salary cuts, blaming government corruption and mismanagement for the current crisis.
"Swaziland has come to the stage where we need a transitional government and then to go for multi-party democracy," union official Muzi Mhlanga told AFP.
Swaziland is reeling after a 60 percent drop last year in revenues from a regional customs union, its main source of income.
The country has been paying civil servants by drawing down foreign reserves, but as the crisis deepens the cash is running out.