2 March 2017

Swaziland: All Must Pay for Christian Lessons

Taxpayers of all religions in Swaziland will have to help foot a E20 million ($US1.5m) bill to fund the new edict that only Christianity may be taught in schools.

The controversial move was designed to ensure children learned 'Christian values' above others.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch in Swaziland reported Martin Dlamini, the Swazi Minister of Finance, told parliament on Friday (24 February 2017), 'The main objective behind the Christian-based Religious Education is to enable the learner to develop Christian virtues and to build a personal Christian ideal to inspire learners' development and maturity.

'The focus would be on transmitting knowledge of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.'

The new ruling came into force in January 2017 at the start of the school term. Until then, the Religious Education syllabus had included Christianity, Islam, Baha'i faith and Swazi ancestors. The decision reportedly came from the Swazi Cabinet, which is handpicked by King Mswati III.

Also, all pupils will be obliged to take Religious Education throughout their time at primary and high school.

The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, reported on 19 January 2017 that Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Pat Muir, said government was targeting the ability for school children to differentiate between morality and immorality and also to ensure that children were not confused.

The Times reported, 'He said they believed Christianity was the best way to achieve this.'

The move could be against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Swazi Constitution. When the 2005 Constitution was being drafted, it was decided not to insist that Swaziland was a Christian country. This was to encourage freedom of religion.

Lawyers for Human Rights spokesperson Sabelo Masuku said although Swaziland was predominantly Christian, the Government had to consider the Swazi Constitution which made it clear there was freedom of religious choice.

Nkosingiphile Myeni, Communications Officer of The Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO) in Swaziland, a network of NGOs, ecumenical bodies and other faith-based organisations, said, 'Firstly, government must not forget that in 2005, Swaziland entered a new era of constitutionalism. In Section 23 of the Constitution, liberties including human rights, freedom of conscience and religion are entrenched. The inclusion of all other religions must be in line with this constitutional provision to cater for all sectors of society.'

According to the CIA World factbook religion in Swaziland is broken down as Zionist (a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship) 40 percent, Roman Catholic 20 percent, Muslim 10 percent, other (includes Anglican, Bahai, Methodist, Mormon, Jewish) 30 percent.

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