Close to 200 teachers died of stress-related illness in Swaziland / eSwatini over two years. Four teachers a week were being buried and another 100 were said to presently suffering. This was because of the pressure teachers were forced to work under because of the economic meltdown in the kingdom.
The Swaziland News, an online publication, revealed the statistics after an investigation. It said close to 200 teachers died in the two years up March 2019. The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) said it buried four teachers a week who died of stress-related illness. SNAT also said more than 100 teachers that it knew of were seeking psychological help because of stress.
The newspaper reported that the cause of the stress was mainly the working conditions teachers faced. They were poorly paid and overworked because there were so many unfilled teacher vacancies and they lacked resources.
A source told the newspaper, ‘We are the most frustrated professionals in the country yet parents and government expect good results. Another thing, the government wants all children in primary schools to pass, even those who fail, we are told to promote them to the next class, it’s a huge crisis. When a teacher dies, those who remained behind are loaded with extra duties as government has frozen hiring.’
Themba Masuku, the Swazi Deputy Prime Minister, said, ‘The economic situation is really bad.’ He said teachers’ leaders and the Ministry of Education and Training should meet to prioritise spending.
Sikelela Dlamini, Secretary-General of SNAT, said, ‘The DPM is talking “nonsense” by saying we must consult the Education Ministry to find solutions on these issues, he knows that the Ministry has no capacity to resolve these challenges. We can engage the Education Ministry, but nothing will change, it is the central government that should prioritize education.’
The problem is not new as the government, appointed by King Mswati III the absolute monarch in Swaziland, has run the economy into the ground over many years. Public services across the kingdom, including health, education and policing are crumbling. The government owes its suppliers about E3 billion (US$215 million). Protests from teachers and civil servants have taken place across the kingdom because government has refused to fund cost-of-living salary adjustments. It says it does not have the money.
Sikelela Dlamini told the Swaziland News, ‘When it’s time to address issues affecting civil servants, government always claim there is no money but it’s always available for royalty.’
The King and his extended family live lavish lifestyles. At his 50th birthday in 2018 he wore a watch worth US$1.6 million and a suit beaded with diamonds that weighed 6 kg. Days earlier he had taken delivery of his second private jet. This one, an Airbus A340, cost US$13.2 to purchase but with VIP upgrades was estimated to have cost US$30 million.
In 2017 King Mswati was named the third wealthiest King in Africa by the international website Business Insider. It reported he had a net worth of US$200 million (about E2.8 billion in local Swazi currency).
About seven in ten of the estimated 1.2 million population of Swaziland live in abject poverty with incomes less than the equivalent of US$2 per day.
This week, Welcome Mhlanga, President of the Eswatini Principals Association (EPA), told the Times of eSwatini (formerly Times of Swaziland), ‘Most schools have not been paid their grants – free primary education (FPE) and orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs) – which are funded by government.’ He warned teaching materials would not be available ahead of examinations.
In July 2019, Minister of Education and Training Lady Howard-Mabuza met school principals. The government had not paid schools fees and support staff were sacked as a result. Teaching supplies ran out and in some schools pupils had been without a teacher for more than a year.
The Minister said that plans for building new schools had been put on hold and hiring of teaching staff was frozen.
More than six in ten schools in Swaziland did not have enough teachers because of government financial cutbacks, Welcome Mhlanga had previously said.
Howard-Mabuza said the government was broke and could not afford to finance education.
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