Wednesday, January 8, 2020

University lecturers ‘forced to weed fields of Swaziland absolute monarch’

University lecturers in Swaziland (eSwatini) say they have been forced to abandon duties to work unpaid in the fields of absolute monarch King Mswati III.

In the past the King has been criticised by modern-day slavery campaigners for forcing people, including children, to work in his fields.

Lecturers said they feared they would lose their jobs if they did not obey the call to work for the King.

This has been going on for years, but has only now been revealed publicly.

The Swaziland News, an online newspaper, reported lecturers at the University of eSwatini (formerly University of Swaziland – UNISWA) ‘were forced to protect their jobs by participating in royal assignments and abandon their professional duties thus comprising the quality of education within the University’.

It said, ‘lecturers who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity said they were not comfortable with working in the King’s fields but attend the royal duties in fear of losing their jobs in the event they defy the King.’

Salebona Simelane, the university registrar, confirmed that some lecturers attended the royal fields but said none of them was under duress or forced to demonstrate allegiance to the King.  

Musa Nkambule, a lecturer at the university who is also Chairman of the political party Sive Siyinqaba ‘Sibahle Sinje’, told the News, ‘the administration normally made an announcement among the staff that the university would be closing early for lecturers to attend to the royal duties.

‘We should be marking the [examination] scripts by then but we can’t do that because we are expected to attend to the royal assignment, this is not right,’ he said.

In 2018 King Mswati was named in a global report on modern slavery for forcing his subjects to weed his fields.

The Global Slavery Index 2018, said there was evidence that the practice known as kuhlehla continued, ‘where the community is forced to render services or work for the King or local chiefs’.

The report estimated there were 12,000 people in Swaziland in modern slavery. This number increased from 1,302 people in 2013 and 6,700 people in 2014. The numbers for 2018 may have been distorted by changes in the way victims were counted.

The report stated modern slavery, ‘refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception and / or abuse of power’.

This was not the first time King Mswati had been named in a report on modern slavery or human trafficking. The annual Trafficking in Persons Report for 2017 from the United States State Department said it had been reporting conditions in Swaziland for the previous five years. It said, ‘Swazis are culturally expected to participate in the seasonal weeding and harvesting of the King’s fields and those who may refuse are subject to coercion through threats and intimidation by their chiefs.’

A report Child Labor and Forced Labor from the US Department of Labor looking at 2016 stated penalties imposed by chiefs included ‘evicting families from their village and confiscating livestock’. 

Separately, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons report revealed, ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults—through threats and intimidation—to work for the King. Swazi boys and foreign children are forced to labor in commercial agriculture, including cattle herding, and market vending within the country.’

King Mswati was at the centre of an international controversy in January 2015 when Swazi Media Commentary revealed that schools in Swaziland were forced to stay closed after Christmas so children could weed the King’s fields. As many as 30,000 children were thought to have missed schooling as a result. 

The Global Slavery Index for 2016 reported that the Swazi Government ‘attempted to backtrack on its intentions when its use of unpaid child labour was reported by international media’.

Seven in ten people in Swaziland live in abject poverty earning less than the equivalent of $US3 per day. They can be forced to work under the Swazi Administration Order, No. 6 of 1998 which makes it a duty of Swazis to obey orders and participate in compulsory works; participation is enforceable with severe penalties for those who refuse.

This is allowed even though the Swaziland Constitution that came into effect in 2006 prohibits forced or compulsory labour. 

See also

Swazi Govt misleads on child labour
Kids forced to weed King’s fields

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