18 February 2013

Swaziland: No Free Speech Restricts Debating

Prime Minister Dr Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini says the outstanding performance by the Swazi team in the World Schools Debate Championships (WSDC) shows that the country's education standard ranks high in the world," the Swazi government writes on its official website, writes Kenworthy News Media.

The WSDC is an annual debating tournament for high school-level teams representing different English-speaking countries. Swaziland finished runners up to Australia this year in what was the "biggest upset in the world debate circles", according to Waterford Kamhlaba United World College, the college that the Swazi debating team attend.

According to Waterford Kamhlaba United World College, "Swaziland debating can continue to grow to new heights and be able to continue to inspire other people, especially those in the rural parts of Swaziland, to join debating."

But Swaziland is ranked 140th in the world according to the UNDP HDI Education Index, contradicting the statements by the PM, and according to a Working Paper from the World Bank called The Education System in Swaziland, "key weaknesses pertain to low access uneven and inequitable quality, acute inequalities, resource inefficiency, poor relevance and weak strategic direction and delivery capacity."

As for the freedom to use ones education for meaningful debating, one can hope with Nelson Mandela that the freedom that education can help bring about will also prevail in Swaziland. "It is my hope that ... children will be able to experience the freedom that education brings," Mandela, who sent his daughters Zenani and Zindzi to Waterford Kamhlaba United World College, says on the schools website.

But for any true freedom to pursue a proper debating culture in Swaziland to take root, the absolute monarchy of King Mswati III will have to allow some manner of freedom of speech, unbanning of political parties and democratisation.

According to Freedom House, "constitutional rights to free expression [in Swaziland] are severely restricted in practice and can be suspended by the king. Publishing criticism of the ruling family is banned. Self-censorship is widespread, as journalists are routinely threatened and attacked by the authorities ... The government restricts freedoms of assembly and association, and permission to hold political gatherings is frequently denied."

 - Kenworthy News Media

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