Two weeks ago King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, ordered teachers to return to work after a six-week strike. He also ordered the Swazi Government, which he handpicks, to negotiate a settlement with teachers. The teachers immediately returned to work, but the government refused to reinstate about 200 teachers who had been sacked for taking part in the strike.
This led to a crisis in Swaziland because once the king pronounces on a subject no one - not even his government ministers – is allowed to discuss the matter further. In this case the Swazi cabinet of ministers met and decided that the king had not meant to allow the sacked teachers back to class.
Timothy Velabo Mtetwa, who is known in the kingdom as the ‘traditional prime minister’ and who speaks for the king, publicly criticised the government for defying the king’s wishes. It was even said that the Minister of Education Wilson Ntshangase might be forced to pay a fine for disobeying the king.
The government responded by claiming its actions had been misinterpreted by the media.
Now, the King, through his advisors, has made it known that he wants the sacked teachers reinstated and meekly the government has followed his instructions.
The Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku told a press conference, ‘The government has decided that all the sacked teachers should report back to work with immediate effect.’
Masuku, who is acting PM, added there had been, ‘regrettable misinterpretation of the government’s actions’ towards implementing the ‘Royal Command’.
He said, ‘We are all grateful as a nation to have a revered monarch who listens to his people and continues to display unique leadership qualities.’
He went on to say pronouncements made by the king were beyond reproach. He said government embraced this custom and was, therefore, collectively obligated to observe and implement each and every pronouncement.
This is an embarrassing climb-down for the government, but it is trying to pretend it was always going to reinstate the sacked teachers. It has been blaming news media for misinterpreting its actions.
The about-turn by the government also puts to rest the claim from supporters of King Mswati that he is not an absolute monarch. The teachers demonstrate clearly that the king is willing and able to overturn any government decision as he chooses. It also shows that no one dares to contradict the king once the ‘Royal Command’ has been made.
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