Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Confusion as Swaziland schools try to reopen after coronavirus shutdown

There was confusion across Swaziland (eSwatini) as schools attempted to reopen after an almost one-year closure because of the coronavirus pandemic.


The Ministry of Health and Training had issued a staggered timetable for reopening but many pupils turned up when they were not scheduled.


There was also confusion about whether school fees needed to be paid. 


Staff and pupils were required to wear masks and to keep social distancing. Many had their temperatures screened before they were allowed into school. Many were unsure how they were supposed to behave. 


The Times of eSwatini reported, ‘It was a bad start to the reopening of schools as a lot seemed to have gone wrong. Teachers had a tough time while trying to arrange pupils who had no clue which classrooms they had to occupy.’


It added, ‘Meanwhile, some of the pupils in Grade IV, V and VI had to be turned back as they had attended school yet they were not supposed to.’


The eSwatini Observer reported several schools in the Shiselweni region were expected to open without teachers. There are over 140 primary schools and over 70 high schools in the region.


It quoted Regional Education Officer Siboniso Gumbi saying, ‘The only serious challenge I have received from a number of principals it is that of the shortage of teachers. There are schools that will open with only five teachers. Other schools are likely to open with fewer teachers than that.’


Separately, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers and the Swaziland Association of Schools Administrators said that there would be no lessons until the number of teachers was doubled. 


See also

Swaziland Parliament forces Education Minister to drop school fees during coronavirus lockdown


Teachers’ leaders fear Swaziland schools not ready to reopen as Govt. eases coronavirus lockdown

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Stigma against women with HIV in Swaziland rife, human rights review told

The stigma faced by people with HIV in Swaziland (eSwatini) continues to be widespread with a particularly damning effect upon women and girls, according to a submission to a United Nations group’s investigation into human rights in the kingdom.


‘It can affect the number of women and girls seeking treatment,’ the Birmingham City University, School of Law (UK), said in a written submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland. 


It added, Swaziland had ‘particularly deep-rooted gender roles and cultural norms, which often lead to negative consequences for women and girls, including in the context of HIV’.


It reported Swaziland had the highest rate of HIV across the world. It was estimated that around 200,000 adults and children were living with HIV – about 17.4 percent of the kingdom’s total population.


While the number of people currently living with HIV was still steadily increasing, the number of new infections was decreasing.  There were several reasons for this, including a rise in the general population, and an expansion of access to antiretrovirals (HIV medication) in Swaziland, meaning that more people infected with HIV were living longer lives. 


Around 95 percent of those infected with HIV could access antiretrovirals. ‘However, there is still much work to be done in eSwatini, particularly in terms of women and girls, as over 60 percent of those aged over 15 and living with HIV are women. This is a particularly sensitive issue, as women in Eswatini are often considered to be “subordinate to men,” with gender inequality being pervasive across the country.’


It reported, ‘ A study carried out in 2016-17 in the region of Shiselweni found that, in some cases, “asymptomatic people living with HIV were motivated to start ART (antiretrovirals) in order to prevent them from developing symptoms that would visibly show them to be HIV-positive.”’


It added, ‘The study also found that in other cases, “engaging with treatment and care services was also seen as having the potential to expose someone as HIV-positive and thereby open to stigmatisation.” In these cases, “[w]hen the risk of exposure through clinic attendance was deemed too great, people were found to disengage from care and take treatment intermittently.”’


The Birmingham University report stated statistics also showed that this stigmatisation particularly affected women and girls aged 15 to 24.


It added a practical way of tackling this stigmatisation was through education. ‘It is widely agreed that the education provision in eSwatini regarding HIV and AIDS is poor,’ it added.


Statistics from 2014 showed that only 49 percent of young women (ages 15-24) and 51 percent of young men demonstrated adequate knowledge on this subject.


The Birmingham University report said public programming explicitly designed to reduce the existing stigma had helped create a supportive environment which was more tolerant and understanding. To some extent, the Swazi Ministry of Health was already seeking to implement this, through radio and television shows about HIV.


The university recommended Swaziland should extend its current Health Promotion Programme using different types of accessible media, including creative and dramatic presentations, and information campaigns for tolerance and inclusion and interactive educational workshops.


It commended civil society and non-governmental organisations in Swaziland for efforts made towards engaging projects and strategies to tackle stigma and foster inclusivity.


See also

‘Drastic deterioration’ in Swaziland human rights, United Nations’ investigation told

Monday, March 29, 2021

‘Drastic deterioration’ in Swaziland human rights, United Nations’ investigation told

There has been a ‘drastic deterioration’ in human rights in Swaziland (eSwatini), a United Nations group investigating the kingdom, ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, was told.


Human Rights Watch said since the 1973 Royal Decree, ‘political parties are banned, the judiciary is severely compromised, and repressive laws have been used to target independent organizations and harass civil society activists’.


In a submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review of Swaziland, Human Rights Watch said, ‘There has been no progress on essential rights reforms, including the removal of all legislative and practical restrictions to free exercise of civil and political rights, in particular those related to freedom of association and expression to allow the registration and operation of political parties; introducing greater political freedoms through free, fair, transparent democratic elections; ensuring the right to health without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; abolition of the death penalty; and decriminalization of same-sex relations and prevention of discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. 


‘The government has yet to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, despite previously agreeing to do so.’


Human Rights Watch added,The government has yet to repeal, or amend as appropriate, a number of repressive laws that restrict basic rights to freedom of association and assembly, despite these rights also being guaranteed in eSwatini’s 2005 constitution.


‘Police have sweeping powers under the Public Order Act. The king’s 1973 decree banning political parties remains in force despite repeated calls from local political activists to have it revoked. The constitution does not address the formation or role of political parties. Section 79 of the constitution provides that eSwatini practices an electoral system based on individual merit and excludes the participation of political parties in elections. Traditional leaders and chiefs have powers to restrict access to their areas, and have often used these powers to bar civil society groups and political groups like the Ngwane National Liberatory Congress (NNLC) and the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).’


It added, ‘Restrictions on freedom of association and assembly continue. On October 20, 2020, the High Court heard a challenge by the eSwatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM), a human rights community-based advocacy organization which aims to advance the protection of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex persons. In September 2019, the eSwatini Registrar of Companies had refused to register ESGM as a company saying that “ESGM’s objectives were unlawful because same-sex sexual acts are illegal in the country.”’


Human Rights Watch is calling on the Swazi Government to guarantee freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, including freedom of association on the basis of sexual orientation and to revoke the king’s 1973 decree on political parties, allow the registration and operation of political parties, and introduce multi-party democratic elections.


Earlier this month (March 2021) Freedom House in its annual report declared Swaziland was ‘not free’.


It reported, ‘The king exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs. Political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Additional human rights problems include impunity for security forces and discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.’


The Universal Periodic Review is a process through which all UN Member States are provided the opportunity to review the human rights records of all other Member States.  At the same time, each State under review has the opportunity to report on human rights conditions within their own borders, including actions that have been taken to address concerns detailed by other States. 


See also

Swaziland still ‘not free,’ human rights group Freedom House reports


Anniversary of day Swaziland stopped being a democracy and became absolute monarchy

Friday, March 26, 2021

Nearly 60,00 people in Swaziland face looming starvation and death: Save The Children

Nearly 60,000 people in Swaziland (eSwatini) face starvation or death without immediate action, Save The Children reported.


They are among more than 347,000 people in the kingdom who face acute food shortage and need urgent humanitarian assistance. This includes about 180,000 children.


The population of Swaziland is about 1.2 million people.


Save The Children said ‘nearly 60,000 people [are] experiencing emergency levels of hunger, meaning that without immediate action, they could face starvation or even death’.


In a statement, Save The Children said, Swaziland had experienced a rapid deterioration in food availability over past months due to coronavirus (COVID-19)-related job losses, high food prices, and erratic rainfall leading to a poor harvest at the end of 2020.


It reported, ‘The latest figures show that 31 percent of the population is now suffering from the food crisis, a markedly worse situation than the last hunger assessment in 2019, when 18 percent of the population was experiencing severe hunger.’


Save the Children has launched an emergency programme with the Swazi National Disaster Management Agency and plans to scale up its response to ensure critical food packages and nutritional supplements reach children and their families.


The agency is urgently calling on donors to release funds to support the emergency response and stave off a hunger crisis.


Save the Children’s Executive Director in eSwatini, Dumisani Mnisi, said, ‘The situation in eSwatini has been rapidly deteriorating and it’s finally reached a tipping point.’


Mnisi added, ‘We are calling on the international community for support as we rally together to face this challenge.’


 See also


‘Urgent action needed to save lives’ as hunger grips Swaziland


One in three people in Swaziland in urgent need of food, Deputy PM reports

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Swaziland remains ‘not free,’ human rights group Freedom House reports

Freedom House, the global group that works to defend human rights and promote democratic change, has once again declared that Swaziland (eSwatini) is ‘not free’.


In its annual report on human rights in the kingdom ruled by absolute monarch King Mswati III, Freedom House scored Swaziland 19 out of 100 points. This was the same score it gave for 2020.


Freedom House awarded Swaziland one point out of 40 for ‘political rights’ and 18 out of 60 for ‘civil liberties’ in its 2021 Freedom in the World report.


It will release a full report on human rights in Swaziland at a later date.


In an overview of the kingdom, Freedom House reported, ‘The king exercises ultimate authority over all branches of the national government and effectively controls local governance through his influence over traditional chiefs. Political dissent and civic and labor activism are subject to harsh punishment under sedition and other laws. Additional human rights problems include impunity for security forces and discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people.’


It added, ‘Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se.


Last month (February 2021), Human  Rights Watch in its annual review of Swaziland said the kingdom was gripped by restrictions in freedoms of assembly and association.


In 2020, Reporters Without Borders ranked Swaziland 141 out of 180 countries on media freedom, based partly on constraints that journalists faced in working freely under the absolute monarchy, and because courts were not permitted to prosecute representatives of the monarchy. 


In June 2020, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published results of an annual survey indicating that Swaziland had one of the worst workers’ rights records in the world.


See also

No let-up in restrictions of freedom of association and assembly in Swaziland: Human Rights Watch


Swaziland gripped by human rights abuses, annual report states

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Swaziland Parliament forces Education Minister to drop school fees during coronavirus lockdown

Members of the Swaziland (eSwatini) House of Assembly forced the Minister of Education and Training, Lady Mabuza, to halt plans to make parents pay school fees even though classes had been stopped for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.


They threatened her with a motion of no confidence if she did not comply.


Schools are due to start reopening on 29 March 2021 and parents are expected to pay fees for both last year and the present one.


Moving an emergency motion, Phila Buthelezi told the House children only had five weeks schooling last year. He said there was no justification to make parents pay fees because children were at home.


He said, ‘As we speak, some parents have failed to register their children for the current academic year, which is supposed to begin next week because the head teachers had stated that there was an instruction from the ministry that they should demand last year’s outstanding fees first.’


The motion was carried and Mabuza was given until Tuesday afternoon (23 March 2021) to comply. Mabuza said she would implement the motion.


See also

Teachers’ leaders fear Swaziland schools not ready to reopen as Govt. eases coronavirus lockdown

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Swaziland top dogs get their coronavirus vaccines ahead of frontline health staff

The Swaziland (eSwatini) Acting Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, the chief of police, and top judiciary have been first to receive coronavirus vaccines although there are only enough doses in the kingdom to fully protect 16,000 people.


The Swazi Government had announced front-line health workers would be first in line to receive jabs. About 32,000 doses recently arrived in the kingdom which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. A person needs two doses to be fully protected.


Announcing what he called the ‘launch of the national COVID19 Vaccine programme’, Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku said in a speech at the Men’s Wellness Centre, Mbabane, ‘This launch and the vaccination rollout that will follow mark a step up in our fight against COVID-19, underpinned by His Majesty’s Government’s immovable commitment to protecting Emaswati [the people of Swaziland].’


In the past few days the Swazi Government has been publicising on Twitter the vaccination of top politicians and judiciary.


Masuku said, ‘As we have been told by health experts countless times before, these vaccines will save lives. The vaccines will help prevent us from falling seriously ill and in the process, they will greatly lower death rates while also relieving the pressure exerted on our health system.’


Despite the evidence that prominent people were getting priority treatment with the vaccine, the Acting Prime Minister said, ‘As has been said before, the vaccination program will be administered in a phased approach.’ He said Phase 1 Stage A would cover all healthcare workers.


Phase 1 Stage B would cover the elderly and those with pre-existing serious illnesses.


Separately, Director of Health Services at the Ministry of Health Dr Vusi Magagula warned Swaziland could get a third wave of the virus at the end of April / beginning of May 2021. He said this was the time of year when cases of flu usually increased in the kingdom.


The eSwatini Observer reported Dr Magagula stated that once the number of infections recorded daily reached 40 the ministry would take that as a sign of the wave having started to increase.


The number of daily new cases has been fewer than 10 in recent days.


Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku receives his coronavirus vaccine jab, ahead of frontline health workers


Richard Rooney


See also

Teachers’ leaders fear Swaziland schools not ready to reopen as Govt. eases coronavirus lockdown


Swaziland relaxes coronavirus lockdown amid confusion over vaccines and fear of third wave


Swaziland extends coronavirus lockdown and prepares for third wave to strike