3 November 2011
Swaziland students protest over meal allowances
MBABANE — Hundreds of Swazi students gathered outside state offices in the capital, Mbabane, yesterday (3 November 2011) to demand the cash-strapped government pay their three-month overdue meal allowances.
"They have not told us why they have not paid. They told us they would," Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, president of the Swaziland National Union of Students, told AFP.
Armed police locked the crowd of around 300 students inside the University of Swaziland for half an hour before letting the demonstrators march down a back street.
Authorities said they kept the protest off the main roads over security concerns.
The students then held a peaceful two-hour sit-in outside the labour ministry.
Nhlabatsi said some 1,500 students are affected by the delayed payments.
Labour ministry officials declined to comment.
"The majority of students come from humble backgrounds so we rely heavily on government financially," said third-year student Lihle Nkwanyana.
Swaziland is in the middle of a budget crisis that in August forced officials to delay opening the University of Swaziland, the country's only university.
It opened in September, but students have boycotted classes for the past two days.
The small, landlocked kingdom has been devastated by cuts in revenues from a regional customs union, the government's main source of income.
It has been struggling to pay public workers and meet the health care needs of the 1.1-million population, sparking unprecedented demonstrations against the government of King Mswati III.
Tertiary education has been hard hit, with only a quarter of the usual number of first-year students receiving state bursaries this year.