9 January 2018

Swaziland: Schools Crisis Over Christian Teaching

Swaziland's schools are in crisis because of lack of funds and teachers, the kingdom's Minister of Education and Training Phineas Magagula said.

About E33 million (US2.6 million) is needed to fund 169 extra teachers who are needed now that Christianity has become a compulsory subject for all public schools in Swaziland, the Swazi Observer reported on Thursday (4 January 2018).

There are not enough teachers in Swaziland to teach Christianity. The newspaper reported Magagula saying they had identified 169 present teachers who majored in religious studies and history who could teach the Christian Education Syllabus. He did not say if they had been consulted on a possible move. It was not reported who would replace the teachers in their present posts if they did transfer.

The new policy that only Christianity and no other religion could be taught in schools was announced in January 2017. Previously, the Religious Education syllabus included Christianity, Islam, Baha'i faith and Swazi ancestors. The decision reportedly came from the Swazi Cabinet, which is handpicked by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. There was no consultation with schools.

The move was controversial. Teaching only Christianity 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.

In January 2017, 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 at the time, '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.'

The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) President Freedom Dlamini criticised the way the new syllabus was introduced. In a statement he said, 'Our education system was immediately thrown back into the dark ages, not that we had ever got out.'

Dlamini added, 'We don't want to create religious fundamentalists from our future generation, a predicament that some nations are finding themselves in today.'

Dlamini said in some schools, especially at secondary level, pupils had to drop one subject to comply with this order and contrary to the promise by the ministry that schools were going to have more teachers, most schools had no teachers posted.

The Observer reported Dlamini saying there were no signs that teachers would be appointed.

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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