The opening of schools in Swaziland has been postponed for a week so children can weed the fields of King Mswati III.
The postponement was decreed by the King and announced by Minister of Education and Training Phineas Magagula.
Magagula said the schools would not open due to ‘ongoing national duties’, a vague reference to the Incwala ceremony, considered by traditionalists to be the Swazi national prayer, that is coming to a close and the weeding of the royal fields that is ongoing.
This is not the first time that schools have been closed so children can weed the fields of King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. As many as 30,000 children may miss schooling as a result.
A report on people trafficking in Swaziland published in 2014 said the King used forced child labour to work in his fields. ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults - through threats and intimidation - to work for the King,’ the report from the United States State Department said.
In Swaziland chiefs do the King’s bidding at a local level. People know they must obey the chief because their livelihood depends on his goodwill. In some parts of Swaziland the chiefs are given the power to decide who gets food that has been donated by international agencies and then the chiefs quite literally have power of life and death in such cases with about a third of the population of Swaziland receiving food aid each year.
Private schools in Swaziland were told they must obey the King’s directive, but many did not, prompting Minister Magagula to demand they close. If they did not, local media reported him saying, ‘they are pushing the country into a state of lawlessness’.
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