A command from Swaziland’ autocratic King Mswati III abolishing top-up fees has sent schools in his kingdom spiralling into chaos.
He made the directive during his speech opening the Swazi Parliament in February 2014, even though the government he hand-picked did not have a plan to implement it.
In Swaziland the King’s word is a proclamation. Once he speaks nobody dares to question him.
It is this mind-set that has sent schools across the impoverished kingdom into chaos.
According to reports within Swaziland most schools have been forced to suspend activities including participation in sports and music competitions. It is estimated these extra-mural activities have halved when compared to recent years.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, reported some head teachers had resorted to selling sweets on behalf of their schools to raise additional funds.
The newspaper reported, ‘Swaziland Principals Association (SWAPA) President Mduduzi Bhembe confirmed the sad situation and lamented the fact that the growth of the country’s education system was taking a nosedive.
‘He said as principals of schools they decried the collapse of the education system and called for government to bring an alternative to the scrapped top-up fees that were paid by parents to assist boost the schools’ coffers.’
Government introduced free primary education in 2009, starting from Grade One and this year the programme was rolled out in grade seven, which is the last grade at primary school level. Currently, more than 240,000 pupils are enrolled in the primary education system. According to the 2012 annual education census, 95 percent of appropriate age and eligible children are able to access primary education.
Principals complained that the money paid by government was too meagre to run the schools and a majority of them opted for top-up fees to make up for the shortage.
There are further problems ahead for Swazi schools. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training Pat Muir told a strategic meeting with Swaziland Skills in May 2015 that the situation faced by schools was dire as the kingdom had about half the number of secondary schools than primary schools.
‘Existing secondary schools will not be able to absorb all the school leavers expected to sit for their Swaziland Primary Certificate (SPC) examination at the end of this academic year,’ the Times of Swaziland quoted him saying.