16 August 2017

Swaziland: Swazi King's University Flop

King Mswati III failed in his promise to have a new SADC-wide university up and running in Swaziland before his time as chair of the organisation ends this week (August 2017).

King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, announced in August 2016 after assuming the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that a 'university of transformation' taking students from all over the region would open by the time he stood down from the office.

Both the Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom, and the Swazi Observer, which is in effect owned by the King, reported on 31 August 2016 that King Mswati told the SADC heads of state summit held at Lozitha, 'This initiative will give new hope and opportunity to our youth and our women. The intention is to have the first intake of students prior to the 37th SADC summit in 2017.'

That summit is about to start and the university remains a pipe-dream.

On Monday (14 August 2017) the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation reported the King saying about the university, 'We are still looking at strategies and all that in terms of mobilising resources.'

The King and the media in Swaziland that enthusiastically and uncritically reported his initial statement, gave no indication of where the money would come from for the project, who would teach at the university, what academic programmes it would run, and how programmes would be administered.

The University of Swaziland (UNISWA), the kingdom's largest and oldest university, has been unable to start teaching first year students this academic year because the government has delayed in awarding scholarships. Over many years students have been protesting against cuts in scholarships and lack of resources.

Shortly after his announcement of the new university the King said it would be hosted by Limkokwing University, a private institution which has come under fire for its poor standards.

According to its website, Limkokwing in Swaziland only offers 'associate degrees' which are at a level below Bachelor degrees and in many universities are known as diplomas.

In June 2012, Bandile Mkhonta, Head of Human Resource for Limkokwing in Mbabane, Swaziland, told local media that of 53 professional staff at the university only one had a Ph.D doctorate. A Ph.D is usually considered by universities to be the minimum qualification required to be given the rank of senior lecturer.

Limkokwing in Swaziland had no staff at professor rank and no record of conducting scholarly research.

The failure to deliver the university is one of a long line of broken promises made by the King. In November 2009, King Mswati announced a plan partly financed from in the oil state of Qatar to build an E35bn (US$4.8bn at the then exchange rate) 'world class facility' that would store at least a three-month supply of fuel for Swaziland. It did not happen.

In November 2012 the king returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Taiwan, claiming that he had secured Taiwanese investment to build a pharmaceutical plant, a food processing plant, a bottled water plant, a cosmetics plant and a granite and marble venture - which, according to a report in the Times of Swaziland newspaper, were expected to create more than 3,000 jobs. It has not happened.

In April 2009 King Mswati III announced the building of a multi-billion emalangeni Swazi City, financed by international money and comprising a 25,000 sq m shopping, entertainment and 'wellness' centre 'to rival the world'. There would be a Science and Technology Park, a hi-technology industrial Site and an expansion of the Matsapha Industrial Site. It would be completed by 2012, creating 15,000 new jobs. It did not happen.

In October 2009 the government the King handpicked promised an E1.5bn 'facelift' for the Swazi capital city Mbabane. That money would buy a civic centre and a shopping mall, described at the time as a 'fully fledged state of the art 21st Century Civic Centre befitting a country's capital city'. Work was expected to start in June 2010 and take three years to build. It did not happen.

In October 2010, the Swazi Government announced its 'fiscal adjustment roadmap' to save the kingdom's economy. This would include attracting investment to create, 'between 25,000 and 30,000 new jobs' in the private sector. These jobs have not materialised.

In 1998 King Mswati was said to have teamed up with pop singer Michael Jackson to bring a 'Netherland-style' theme park to Swaziland.

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