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Thursday, 18 February 2016

KING DEFYING SCHOOL HEADS FACE ARREST

School principals in Swaziland will be arrested if they continue to defy an order from King Mswati III, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, and charge parents top-up fees for their children’s education.

The Swazi Education and Training Minister Phineas Magagula made this promise on Monday (15 February 2016) after the Kingdom’s High Court confirmed the King’s edict that no school should charge parents top-up fees.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, reported that Magagula said by charging top-up fees the principals were ‘failing to comply with His Majesty King Mswati III’s order that such should not be paid and that no child should be deprived of education’.

Schools have been in disarray since February 2014 when the King pronounced on top-up fees in his speech opening the Swaziland Parliament, even though the government he hand-picked did not have a plan to deal with the financial shortfall this would create. 

In Swaziland the King’s word is a proclamation. Once he speaks nobody is allowed to question him.

It is this mind-set that has sent schools across the impoverished kingdom into chaos.

According to reports within Swaziland most schools have been forced to suspend activities including participation in sports and music competitions. It is estimated these extra-mural activities have halved when compared to recent years.

The Swazi Observer reported some head teachers had resorted to selling sweets on behalf of their schools to raise additional funds.

In 2015, the newspaper reported, ‘Swaziland Principals Association (SWAPA) President Mduduzi Bhembe confirmed the sad situation and lamented the fact that the growth of the country’s education system was taking a nosedive. 

‘He said as principals of schools they decried the collapse of the education system and called for government to bring an alternative to the scrapped top-up fees that were paid by parents to assist boost the schools’ coffers.’

Government introduced free primary education in 2009, starting from Grade One and in 2015 the programme was rolled out in Grade Seven, which is the last grade at primary school level. More than 240,000 pupils are enrolled in the primary education system. According to the 2012 annual education census, 95 percent of appropriate age and eligible children are able to access primary education.

Principals complained that the money paid by government was too meagre to run the schools and a majority of them opted for top-up fees to make up for the shortage. 

There are further problems ahead for Swazi schools as the kingdom only has about half the number of secondary schools than primary schools and existing secondary schools are not able to absorb all the expected primary school leavers.

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