The Swaziland Government, embarrassed at international news reports that King Mswati III decreed that schools should close so children could weed his fields, is now misleading the public over the matter.
Last week Minister of Education and Training Phineas Magagula announced that the opening of all public and private schools would be delayed by a week. He said in a statement sent to media houses the postponement was due to ‘ongoing national duties’, a vague reference to the Incwala ceremony, considered by traditionalists to be the Swazi national prayer. It was also a reference to the annual weeding of the King’s fields that takes place annually at about this time of year.
Social media, trade unions, and international news agencies picked up on the story and reported that children were compelled to weed the fields and this amounted to child slave labour.
In South Africa, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said they would organise a protest march.
SADTU general secretary Mugwena Maluleke told South African media that regional unions met under the Southern African Teachers Organisation umbrella to discuss the King’s order.
‘The body has decided to mobilise SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) governments to change the practice of child labour. As the SADC body, we will write to SAC protocol to have these practices outlawed,’ Mr Maluleke said.
The Swazi Government was embarrassed by the outrage and now the Swaziland Foreign Affairs Minister Mgwagwa Gamedze has said the date of school opening was moved to allow parents to find spaces for their children in the system. ‘It has nothing to do with the weeding of the King’s fields,’ he told international media.
This directly contradicts the Minister of Education and Training who said in a written statement the postponement was due to ‘ongoing national duties’. It also contradicts the Government’s demand that private schools that had already opened for the new term should close until 27 January 2015.
King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
A report on people trafficking in Swaziland published in 2014 said the King used forced child labour to work in his fields. ‘Swazi chiefs may coerce children and adults - through threats and intimidation - to work for the King,’ the report from the United States State Department said.
KIDS FORCED TO WEED KING’S FIELDS