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Monday, 30 September 2019

Swaziland police fire teargas into classroom packed with children

Police in Swaziland /eSwatini fired a canister of teargas into a primary school classroom packed with children.
It happened when police attacked striking workers in Malkerns.

Children at St. Andrew’s Primary were taken to Mankayane Government Hospital for treatment.

Police fired teargas, water cannon and live bullets during a strike of kombi (bus) drivers and conductors on Friday (27 September 2019).  It was the second time in three days that police had fired teargas at striking workers.

The workers blocked roads in the small town, the Observer on Saturday newspaper in Swaziland reported. It said the workers were only armed with stones and bottles. ‘Armed police officers charged in firing some shots and teargas canisters,’ it reported. Some of the workers entered the school during the violence.

The protest was over the continuing arrest for traffic offences of public transport drivers servicing the Malkerns route. ‘To them, the rate at which they were time and again found to be on the wrong side of the traffic laws was an orchestrated move aimed at victimising them,’ the Observer reported.

Two days earlier, police fired rubber bullets and teargas at striking public service workers, injuring at least 15. The workers were at the end of a three-day strike over cost-of-living pay rises. The violence happened at Mbabane after what local media called ‘a long day of peaceful protest’. Workers had been protesting across the kingdom.

See also

Swaziland police fire rubber bullets and teargas injuring 15 during national strike
Police Turn Swaziland City Into ‘Warzone’ as National Strike Enters Second Day
Widespread Condemnation of Swaziland Police Brutal Attacks on Workers

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Swaziland police fire rubber bullets and teargas injuring 15 during national strike

Police in Swaziland / eSwatini fired rubber bullets and tear gas at striking public service workers, injuring at least 15.

It was the latest police violence at public protests in the undemocratic kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch.

Public sector workers were on the final day of a three-day strike for a cost-of-living wage increase.

The violence happened at Mbabane after what local media called ‘a long day of peaceful protest’. Workers protested across the kingdom.

Police opened fire at workers near the Mbabane Government Hospital on Wednesday (25 September 2019), the Swazi Observer reported.

The 15 injured workers were treated at the hospital. 

Among the shot protesters was a woman teacher who was hit multiple times in the back and leg. She had been in the back of a car that was carrying trade union leaders.

The Observer reported, ‘The emotional teacher blamed the police for shooting at them saying there was no need to open fire to an unarmed group of protesters.’

It added most of the workers who were injured were women and among them were three who were hurt while escaping from the police shots.

‘One teacher who was interviewed said she was trying to take cover from the police shots, but she fell to the ground and when she got up, it was when she got hit by the rubber bullet,’ the newspaper reported.

In the past police fired live bullets, rubber bullets and teargas at workers and demonstrators who had been legally protesting. In September 2018 during a three-day strike the streets of Manzini, the kingdom’s main commercial city, were turned into a ‘battlefield’, according to local media. The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, said the bus rank in Swaziland’s major commercial city was ‘turned into a warzone as stun grenades, teargas, teasers and rubber bullets became the order of the day’.

The Times of Swaziland , the kingdom’s only independent daily newspaper, called it an ‘open battlefield’.

Armed police had been deployed across Swaziland. Videos and photographs of brutal police attacks were uploaded on social media. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) in a statement said the videos showed ‘unlawful police actions’.

It added, ‘Several workers were wounded after police fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd in Manzini. These police officers then unleashed a wave of assaults against striking workers in an effort to quell the protests.’ 

The Swaziland Human Rights Network UK in a statement said, ‘The violent attack on peacefully demonstrating TUCOSWA [Trades Union Congress of Swaziland] members is reprehensible as it was a violation of their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression.’

It added, ‘The Eswatini government has turned the country into a violent police state where the security services have been turned into tools of suppression to protect the interests of not just the government but the regime of King Mswati III. 

‘The routine use of firearms against unarmed and peaceful demonstrators marks a dangerous and violent policy by the Eswatini government and we call for the immediate prosecution of those involved in the senseless brutality against workers.’

That strike came after a series of protests and rallies which saw police violence in attempts to suppress the protestors. Police shot and wounded a schoolteacher at a vigil protesting their salaries in late August. Nurses in the kingdom’s capital city of Mbabane were tasered during a pay protest.   

Public sector workers march peacefully through the streets of Mbabane, Photo sourced from Facebook

See also

Police Turn Swaziland City Into ‘Warzone’ as National Strike Enters Second Day
Widespread Condemnation of Swaziland Police Brutal Attacks on Workers

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Only half the people eligible to vote in Swaziland election did so

Only half of the people eligible to vote at the national election in Swaziland / eSwatini in 2018 did so, official figures reveal.

A year after the election the full results of each individual constituency (known as tinkhundla) have not been publicly released. However, global figures on voting have been released by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

Swaziland is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the people are only allowed to select 59 of 69 seats in the House of Assembly. No members of the 30-strong Swazi Senate are elected by the people.

The statistics released show that 330,791 voted in the final round of elections (known as the secondary election). The EBC said that 650,000 people were eligible to vote. This meant only 50.8 percent of those eligible to vote did so.

The population of Swaziland is about 1.2 million.

The EBC stated that of the 650,000 people eligible, 546,784 people registered to vote. This meant that 215,993 people (nearly four in ten) who registered to vote did not do so in the secondary election.

The turnout in the election is important as voting is the only way people in Swaziland have of demonstrate their support (or lack of it) for the political system. In 1973, King Sobhuza II tore up the constitution, banned political parties and began to rule by decree. Although a new constitution came into effect in 2006, little has changed and King Sobhuza’s son King Mswati III continues to rule as an absolute monarch. Political opposition is banned in Swaziland and those who campaign for democracy are charged under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

The secondary election was marred by accusations of bribery, vote-rigging and other malpractice. There were also outbreaks of violence. Police fired gunshots, stun grenades and rubber bullets as voters at Sigwe protested against completed ballot papers being taken away from a polling centre. In Ndzingeni polling stations voters were dispersed using teargas during counting as voters threatened to enter the polling station where counting was taking place. APA news agency reported outbursts of violence started as early as noon time on election day and intensified in the evening when the counting of votes was about to resume.

Following the election the King appointed Ambrose Dlamini as Prime Minister and a cabinet of ministers in contravention of the Swaziland Constitution. He also appointed six members of his Royal Family to the House of Assembly and eight more to the Senate.

In a report on the election, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated the ‘legitimacy and credibility’ of the election was ‘significantly hampered’ because political parties were banned. The King had ‘excessive powers’ in the appointment of the Government, Parliament and the judiciary, it stated.

It added, ‘The legitimacy and credibility of the elections was significantly hampered by the design of the electoral mechanisms as a culture of political pluralism is lacking. There is no freedom of genuine and pluralistic political debate, political parties are unable to register, contest elections, field candidates or otherwise participate in the formation of a Government.’

See also

Violence, corruption, vote-buying reported in Swaziland election. Journalists barred from entering counting centres
Swaziland (Eswatini) Election 2018: Links to Information and Analysis From Swazi Media Commentary

Monday, 23 September 2019

Swaziland town running out of burial space as health crisis intensifies

So many people are dying of AIDS-related illness that one town in Swaziland / eSwatini is running out of burial space, an online newspaper reported.

The shortage of medicines for many illnesses caused by the government financial crisis is being blamed for some of the increase in deaths.

The Swaziland News reported the municipality of Nhlangano is struggling to meet the demand for new graves.

Apollo Maphalala, Nhlangano Town Council chief executive officer, said graves were being dug in readiness for expected deaths. ‘In Swazi culture this is not allowed, however we prepare the graves to accommodate the demand. We are aware of the drug shortages that might have resulted to the demand, but to us this is just providing a service,’ he said.

Mandla Sibandze, a Nhlangano town councillor, told the newspaper, ‘Many people are dying these days and as the town council, we are running short of a burial space. I may not be sure of the real causes of the deaths but most of them are related to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and cancer.’

The newspaper reported, ‘It has been confirmed that the Nhlangano Town Council charged E500 (US$33) for burial space and business has been booming since the health crisis erupted resulting in government failure to provide sufficient drugs in hospitals thus causing more deaths.’

Dr Simon Zwane, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, told the newspaper Swaziland had a shortage of drugs in hospitals including ARVs for people living with HIV. He also said the number of people falling sick in the kingdom was increasing. 

‘The number of diabetic people and those suffering from hypertension has increased; it is difficult to even give you an accurate number as it keeps on increasing. We are also faced with shortage of ARVs as you have seen that our government has a cash flow problem.’ 

Suppliers have been left unpaid. It is estimated the Swazi Government owes them about E3 billion. There are shortages in health, education and other public services.

The Swaziland News interviewed a local woman Sophie Maziya who said senior citizens were most affected by the medicine shortages. ‘As senior citizens above the age of 60, we are expected to receive free medical treatment, however that doesn’t help us in any way because there are no drugs in hospitals. When I visited the hospital recently I was informed that there were no drugs for diabetes, I had to buy from the pharmacy. A friend of mine who was diabetic died early this year, she was neglected by her children and couldn’t afford to buy the diabetics medication from the pharmacy.’

The financial crisis in the kingdom ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch has been continuing for years. At least six children were reported to have died  from diarrhoea in August 2019. Drugs to treat them were unavailable.

In August 2019 the Ministry of Health confirmed in its first quarter performance report delivered to the Swazi parliament that drugs had run out and there were shortages of nurses, midwives and other health professionals. Fuel frequently ran out and ambulances and other vehicles had broken down. 

Part of the report stated, ‘While most patients were negatively affected, highly impacted patients were those on psychiatric medication, which stocked out for longer periods and those taking anti-hypertensive treatment. The main cause for stock-outs is failure to pay suppliers on time due to the fiscal challenges facing the government.’

In June 2018 it was revealed there were only 12 working public ambulances in the whole of Swaziland because the government failed to maintain them. It had bought no new ambulances since 2013.

See also

Swaziland cancer patients refused treatment because Govt. has not paid hospital bills
More deaths in Swaziland as govt fails to pay medicine suppliers
Food collection points set up in Swaziland as hospital patients unfed after Govt fails to pay suppliers
HIV drugs not available across Swaziland as health crisis deepens
Swaziland health crisis getting worse as budgets cut. Rural areas most affected
Swaziland health crisis: fearful psychiatric nurses say they might release patients

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Public servants across Swaziland set to strike over pay

Public servants across Swaziland / eSwatini are set to strike for three days starting Monday (23 September 2019) in a long-running campaign over pay.

Workers want a 7.8 percent cost-of-living adjustments but the government says it is broke and cannot pay anything.

The standoff has seen a number of marches on government in recent days in which petitions were delivered to ministries. Petitions were also delivered to regional administration offices and regional education offices across the kingdom which is ruled by King Mswati III as an absolute monarch.

The unions involved under the umbrella of the Public Sector Associations (PSA) include the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), Swaziland National Association of Civil Servants (SNACS), Swaziland Nurses Association (SNA), and Swaziland National Association of Government Accounting Personnel (SNAGAP).  

The nurses cannot take part in the strike as they are considered an essential service under Swazi law.

Public servants have not been awarded a Cost of Living Adjustment for the past three years. Unions say prices have risen by 19.9 percent in that time.

See also

Swaziland Industrial Court paves way for public servants to strike legally
Swaziland public servants prepare for pay strike amid fears of renewed police violence against them

Monday, 16 September 2019

Swaziland LGBTI group cannot be registered because ‘Constitution does not protect against discrimination’

The newly-formed group the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM) failed in its attempt to become the first LGBTI group to be officially registered in Swaziland / eSwatini.

The group advocates for rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the kingdom where sexual acts between men are illegal.

In a letter to the group’s lawyer rejecting an application for registration, Registrar of Companies Msebe Malinga said it was clear that that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex was not protected by the kingdom’s Constitution nor in domestic laws.

‘It will be inappropriate for the registrar of companies to register an entity whose objectives are not provided for in the Constitution or any legislation,’ part of the letter read.

Swaziland is a deeply conservative kingdom ruled by the absolute monarch King Mswati III. The King has in the past described homosexuality as ‘satanic’. 

Malinga added, ‘The Companies Act is not relevant legal authority to address the objectives of the Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities.’

ESGM has a number of objectives including to advance the protection of the rights of LGBTI people in Swaziland and reduce harm that affect their wellbeing based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.

The rejection came shortly after the publication of a report that LGBTI people in Swaziland suffered mental health issues and many had attempted suicide because of the way they were discriminated against in the kingdom.

The study found evidence of serious human rights violations against Swazi people who were LGBTI. The report concluded they suffered ‘social exclusion, marginalisation and stigma’ because they were seen as being different from the rest of the population.

The report written by two academics and the Southern and East African Research Collective on Health called for same-sex activity to be decriminalised in Swaziland. It also called for legal reform to abolish laws which contribute to stigma, prejudice and discrimination against sexual and gender minority people living in the kingdom, including men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women.

See also

LGBTI discrimination in Swaziland leads to big mental health issues, report finds
LGBT Pride film shows what it’s like to live with prejudice and ignorance in Swaziland

Friday, 13 September 2019

Health and education collapsing in eSwatini

A government directive preventing departments from hiring or creating new posts is leaving them understaffed and overworked to the point that children aren’t being taught and people are dying.

By: Magnificent Mndebele, New Frame
The cash-strapped Kingdom of eSwatini [Swaziland] has attempted to be “cost effective” by issuing a directive to all ministries and departments that “all vacant posts including creation of new posts and promotions across government be frozen”, according to circular no. 3 of 2018, which had to be implemented from 1 August last year, writes Magnificent Mndebele.

In a nutshell, the circular meant that if a government employee dies, resigns, retires or is transferred, vacant posts will simply not be filled. Civil servants have described the decision as “suicide”. The heavily indebted and understaffed departments of health and education were hit hardest by the directive and have since collapsed as they “no longer serve their purpose of existence”.

Too little state funding 

Previously, parents of learners in eSwatini had to pay school fees from primary to secondary school, and sometimes up to tertiary level. In 2010, the government announced that parents will no longer pay for primary education. According to the eSwatini Ministry of Education and Training, there are 12 560 teachers in 600 primary schools with an enrolment of 239 793 learners. When free education was implemented, the enrolment of learners from grade 1 to 7 jumped to 242 037 from 230 242 the previous year.

The government spends between R650 and R725 a year for each learner. Parents only pay for secondary education. The state takes care of orphaned and vulnerable children in secondary schools through grants paid to the schools. But parents who can afford it pay between R3 400 and R8 000 in school fees whereas the government pays R1 905 to R2 500 for orphaned and vulnerable learners between grades 8 and 12.

The money received from the government “is a mini-skirt, and usually finishes around October”, says Siphasha Dlamini-Madonsela, 52, a school administrator at Sigcaweni High School, which is heavily dependent on the grants for orphaned and vulnerable learners. Her school has 217 pupils, the majority of whom fall into this category. Only 20 of the school’s learners have parents who can afford to pay school fees, but they aren’t always able to pay on time.

Primary and secondary schools are now struggling to pay their operational costs. This has led to thousands of children from impoverished backgrounds being robbed of a better future as schools have turned into “daycare centres instead of educational institutions”.

Dlamini-Madonsela says that since schools have started running out of money, some teachers are expected to teach as well as scout for donations so the schools can continue to function. “Most of the time we improvise. We’ve been turned into beggars because we go to businesspeople to ask for donations,” Dlamini-Madonsela says. “You are committing suicide if you keep a nation uneducated. You are saying there’s no future in the country if you don’t invest in education of the citizens.”

Swaziland National Association of Teachers secretary general Sikelela Dlamini says some schools can no longer pay for the basics, such as electricity bills, and that support staff such as librarians, secretaries and cooks have not been paid since the start of the year.

“In terms of improvement and maintenance of the physical schools, it means there can be a broken window and it will remain so the whole year because the teacher has to prioritise between the structure and the imminent needs of a learner,” Dlamini says. “There are kids who normally have their first and last meal at school. This means that the teacher has to make sure there’s food to be eaten by the kids. The situation is bad.”

Teachers and other stakeholders worry that the quality of education in the country has dwindled significantly. 

“Swaziland was ranked as one of the highest in terms of education, but now it’s not. The rich teach their children outside the country. But the painful part is that the average citizens’ children are forced to stay here because they can’t afford to take their children to other countries where the quality of education is high,” says Dlamini-Madonsela.

Aside from permanently employed educators, Dlamini says only a third of the 4 000 contracted teachers in eSwatini have had their contracts renewed since the freezing of government posts. This has resulted in a shortage of teachers for some learners since the beginning of the year, despite being expected to start writing trial exams in September.

Dlamini says there are more than 100 teachers in the country that need debt counselling and psychological help because their salaries, as civil servants, have not been adjusted for the past three years despite an inflation hike of 20% in the country over that period. “The effects are far-reaching and negative on both learners and teachers … It is dangerous to keep a sick teacher at school,” Dlamini says, commenting that ill educators are forced to continue working because schools are understaffed.

The teachers in need of psychological aid are suffering a double blow as they, along with others in eSwatini who are critically ill, cannot rely on health centres and hospitals in the country as they have become “slaughter houses” instead of lifesaving medical institutions. 

Shortage of medications

There are five heavily understaffed government hospitals and six health centres in eSwatini, which have to accommodate a population of about 1.3 million people.

At the Nhlangano Health Centre, about 130km from the capital city of Mbabane, there are three crucial and frequently used antibiotic medications that haven’t been available for the past two months. These injected medications include ceftriaxone, which is used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections, the cloxacillin injection is commonly used to treat infections of the skin, bone, heart valves, blood and lungs, and the amoxicillin injection is for treating ailments such as pneumonia, bronchitis, tonsillitis and ear infections.

Other medications that have been out of stock include a broad-spectrum antibiotic called fortified penicillin, plaster of Paris used to mould plaster casts to immobilise broken bones and catheters for draining urine from the bladder. 

“There was a woman who was crying that she can’t hold herself as urine was burning her bladder. We told her we can’t help her because we don’t have catheters of all sizes at the centre,” says one Nhlangano Health Centre nurse who spoke to New Frame on condition of anonymity.

It’s not only medication and injections that are unavailable, sometimes there is no food for patients as the hospital kitchens have not received funds to buy ingredients. Additionally, the cooks contracted by the government haven’t been paid since October last year. In June, the administrator of the Nhlangano Health Centre had to buy food for the patients over a weekend from his own pocket after the cooks ran out of supplies.

The situation at the Mbabane Government Hospital, one of the biggest referral hospitals in the country, is equally menacing. Late in November and again in June, the hospital experienced patient food shortages for two weeks. In August, there was a shortage of simple things such as requisition forms, which patients have to sign before X-rays can be done, prescription notepads and several vital medications.

According to senior staff at the hospital, the government has been redirecting medication from rural health centres to the Mbabane hospital to try and prevent people in the city from noticing that there is a shortage. 

Health workers in the country say the government has prohibited them from disclosing the direness of the situation to patients. “You are caught in a dilemma, to tell the truth or a lie. If you tell the truth, you might find yourself losing your job. But because you took an oath to save lives, you then tell that person the truth. If you see that this person can afford, we tell them in confidence that in order to get healed, get such and such medication,” says one of the senior staff members at the hospital.

Understaffed nurses and doctors

Apart from the shortage of medications, the challenging working conditions and being understaffed contributes to the inability of medical professionals in the country to effectively attend to patients. At the Nhlangano Health Centre, at least seven staff members have left since 2017 and only one person has been hired, says the nurse from the facility.

In 2016, a maternity ward was completed at the Nhlangano centre that needed at least 44 staff members to run it. To date, it hasn’t been opened. In February, eSwatini Minister of Health Lizzy Nkosi came to the centre to command the hospital staff to open the ward despite being notified that this wasn’t possible owing to the shortage of staff.

Mbabane Government Hospital is similarly affected by understaffing issues. Since June, there has been a vacant sonographer post for someone who specialises in the use of ultrasonic imaging devices to produce diagnostic images and scans. The sonographer who left the hospital specialised in examining and diagnosing pregnant women, by ultrasound, and vital organ conditions.

“She was being overworked and she ended up resigning as she’d attend to about 800 patients per month,” says the senior staff member at the hospital, adding that pregnant women who have to undergo ultrasound examination are transferred to the Mankayane Government Hospital 57km away, where they are put on a three-month waiting list.

“If the ultrasound examination is required for urgent purposes due to a life-threatening illness, there is a high chance that she will lose her life even if she’d have survived,” says the senior staff member. “It’s more frustrating and so depressing to see someone die knowing very well you’d have saved that life. [Not so long ago] there was a shortage of oxygen, and we lost a baby.”

The Mbabane Government Hospital’s outpatient department has one medical doctor and two interns who attend to about 400 patients daily. “The doctor is not coping. It’s become that instead of thoroughly diagnosing a patient, you are pushing to finish the queue because if you take 10 minutes on one client, the ones waiting outside will start complaining,” says the senior staff member.

Hospitals have become ‘slaughter houses’

The shortage of staff and medication has led to a high rate of fatalities. In a year, the Mbabane Government Hospital loses two infants on average in the first month after birth, which is “a serious concern”.  But in June, the hospital lost 10 infants in this timeframe to neonatal sepsis, a bacterial infection of the blood affecting babies up to 28 days old. This level of fatalities has never before been recorded in the history of the hospital. Every month, the hospital contributes directly to the deaths of at least 100 patients, says the senior staff member.

In June, at least four older patients died because of the shortage of hypertension medication at the Nhlangano Health Centre. In July, 66 children were diagnosed with diarrhoea and six of them died. “A lot of under-five children are dying, yoh!” says the nurse from the health centre.

“The health system has collapsed. If you’re no longer doing your purpose of existence, you are dead. We save lives. But now we can’t save lives, why we are still existing?” asks the senior staff member from Mbabane.

This article was first published by New Frame on 12 September  2019

See also

Up to 200 Swaziland teachers ‘die of stress’ as schools meltdown due to economic crisis
Number of child deaths from diarrhoea in Swaziland rises