from SAMBULO DLAMINI in Mbabane, Eswatini
MBABANE, (CAJ News) – THE abrupt closure of schools, apparently to curtail a standoff pitting government and pupils as well as teachers, brings an end to what is the most tragic academic year in Eswatini.
The year will go down the annals of history as one when the future of a generation went up in smoke, literally.
Children spent a better part of the year out of class because of countrywide protests, or worse, at the forefront of the fatal demonstrations. That was before a lengthy closure before the COVID-19.
This week, in a move that also left parents seething with anger, the government announced schools would be closed on Friday (December 10).
That is almost two weeks before schools were initially scheduled to close (they were scheduled to close on December 23).
In what is perhaps farcical, the closure comes two weeks after they opened, having been shut after widespread protests by the pupils.
In those slightly more than two weeks they would be last open, the burning of some schools and protests continued.
“It’s like they are opening a fridge. They open the schools and close them same time,” lampooned an activist.
“So the government opened schools for two weeks. From the first day, students were sent home for school fees, after collecting all the money and arresting ‘ring leaders’ in classrooms now schools are closed who will refund them (parents)?” asked a resident, Sibongle Mazibuko.
Lady Howard Mabuza, the Minister of Education, announced the schools will close for the upcoming Christmas Holidays and reopen on January 11.
Her explanation was cryptic.
“As a Ministry (education) we believe that learners do not have to slack off on study while on school holidays,” she said.
“End of term breaks are a time when learners can clear their heads, relax a little and stretch their brains in different ways,” Mabuza added.
Parents have spoken out against the hasty school closures, feelings prevalent they were ripped off having paid fees for what has now been a term cut short.
“We paid the fees,” lamented Ncobile Msibi.
“Our government is just grooming an illiterate nation using our children,” she said.
Another parent, Smanga Nabongwane, said, “These sudden opening and closures is affecting our children.”
“We have paid school bus fares for the entire period until schools (close) December 23 as was initially proposed as the date of closure. Now, they just close (d),” Nabongwane added.
Mabuza still had a further request to parents and guardians to encourage and support their children to study during this holiday break.
“They (parents and guardians) need to create an enabling environment for their children to study. We therefore bank on their support,” the minister said.
Eswatini schools have been turned into running battles between state security and striking pupils.
In September, high school students downed their pens and joined protests led by pro-democracy activists.
Some schools have been burnt, allegedly by students but some by arsonists since protests against the monarchy of King Mswati III escalated in June.
Government ordered the closure of schools mid-October when protests heightened.
Schools had only re-opened in September since their closure in March on account of COVID-19 restrictions.
State security personnel are accused of shooting some students, resulting in the deaths and injuries of an unspecified number of scholars.
Others were arrested.
In the lead up to the latest closure, some high school students had again boycotted classes.
The Swaziland National Association of Teacher (s) (SNAT) raised concern at the timing of the closures, coming amid demands for Free Primary Education (FPE) and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) grants to be released.
“The Government is closing schools to run away from the responsibility remitting the due grants,” the teachers union stated.
SNAT on Tuesday delivered a petition to the government on the non-remittance the OVCs and FPE in schools, non-employment of teachers and lack of tools in schools.
The funds are mostly for purchasing of items that would ease challenges for learners in light of the coronavirus.
SNAT is in solidarity with the students.
Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, is beset by its most severe protests since the end of June.
These followed the arrest of some pro-democracy legislators advocating for the introduction of a more democratic system. Two – Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube- remain in custody.
The alleged killing of a college student by police in May inflamed the situation.
Mswati III, at the helm since 1986, has deployed the police and military.
A report the Eswatini Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration published at the end of October 29 disclosed at least 46 people died and 245 sustained gunshot wounds during the June protests.
– CAJ News