15 September 2011
SWAZILAND: Financial crisis forces schools to close
MBABANE, 15 September 2011 (IRIN) - The vast majority of Swaziland’s primary and secondary public schools have not opened for the new term, after the government failed to settle the outstanding education fees of US$10.8 million for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).
About 200,000 children, or nearly one fifth of the country’s 1.1 million people, are classified as orphaned or vulnerable. Swaziland has the world's highest prevalence of HIV - 26.1 percent. One in four Swazis aged 15-49 is HIV-positive and 70 percent of people live below the poverty line.
The government of King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is legally bound to pay OVC fees, which have been outstanding since January 2011.
“Last week government assured us that when schools opened for the third term, [13 September] money for the outstanding fees would be paid for the OVC. This did not happen. The schools have no money to operate,” Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the country’s largest teachers’ union, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), told local media.
In a mobile phone text message to about 9,000 union members on 13 September, SNAT said: “Since government has failed to deposit money for OVCs as per agreement, teachers should return and remain at home until [we] meet Thursday [15 September] for a protest march.”
The Ministry of Education told IRIN the teachers’ union did not have the authority to close schools, and the ministry has ordered children to attend school through broadcasts on government radio stations.
Swaziland’s deepening economic crisis saw neighbouring South Africa recently agree to a R2.4 billion (US$370 million) loan to prevent an economic meltdown, after international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), declined to bail out Swaziland for, among other reasons, its failure to reduce its public sector wage bill, which is seen as far too large for the country’s size. South Africa has not yet paid the loan.
To read the full report from IRIN, click here.
NO CASH SO SWAZI SCHOOLS SHUT