Swaziland: teachers protest shuttered schools

Teachers demonstrate in the streets of the Swazi capital, Mbabane (AFP, Jinty Jackson)

(AFP) – September 15, 2011

MBABANE — Around 500 Swazi teachers marched through the capital Mbabane on Thursday to protest the closure of schools due to the kingdom’s severe budget crisis.

Teachers handed a petition to government demanding it pay over $11 million (eight million euros) into the school system by the end of Friday.

“Failure to do that will cause chaos which no one will be able to stop. We will be left with no option but to mobilise parents and children to join rolling mass action,” the Swaziland National Association of Teachers said in the petition.

Most schools failed to open this week for the start of a new term.

Principals say they no longer have the money to run them because government has not paid fees for orphans since January. Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV infection rate, and orphans make up a significant part of the student population.

Water and electricity have also been cut at many schools because principals cannot pay their bills.

The education ministry has slapped hundreds of principals with misconduct charges for failing to open schools.

“We view it as an act of victimisation,” Mduduzi Bembe, vice president of the Swaziland Principals’ Association told AFP.

“The reason schools are not open is not of our making. Schools are not operational,” he added.

Protests are becoming more frequent in Swaziland, with demonstrations held every day last week.

Swaziland is reeling from a sharp decline in its main source of revenue, a regional customs union. International lenders have refused to help unless Swaziland makes economic reforms.

Mswati, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has won a $343 million bailout from South Africa, but the money has yet to be released.

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