Schools across Swaziland are in chaos at the start of the new academic year.
Children have been turned away because there are no spaces for them in classes at High School. This is because the kingdom has in recent years introduced free primary school education. Now children have graduated there are not enough places in secondary schools. Parents were reported by local media to be walking from school to school in unsuccessful attempts to get their children placed.
Minister of Education Phineas Magagula told the Swazi Observer that new classes had been built across the kingdom to accommodate the expected influx of schoolchildren. Magagula was unable to tell media exactly how many new schools had been opened and how many had been upgraded from secondary to high school.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has not paid fees to about half the 650 primary schools in Swaziland. The Times of Swaziland reported money was being withheld because pupils did not have personal identification numbers (PINs). The Ministry said to avoid audit queries, it had to pay fees against a PIN, not a name of a pupil.
Parents have been outraged that some primary schools are charging top-up fees when the Swazi Constitution and Government policy says primary education should be free.
Swaziland, is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Political parties are banned from taking part in elections and the King appoints the Prime Minister and top ministers. Seven in ten of the estimated 1.4 million population live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day. The kingdom's economy has been mismanaged for decades.
Swaziland cannot afford to pay for its free primary education policy. Government pays E580 per child, but this is heavily subsidised by the European Union (EU). Up to December 2016, the EU had spent a total amount of E110 million (about US$8 million). In 2015, it reportedly sponsored 34,012 learners in 591 schools. The EU plans to continue paying for the school fees until the end of 2018. The EU started funding all first grade pupils in the whole country in 2011.
The problem does not end at primary level. An investigation by the Swazi Observer (27 January 2018) revealed that some high schools charged nearly E9,000 per child per year in top-up fees. It also found (1 February 2018) that some schools were not allowing children, including OVCs (orphaned and vulnerable children) to attend classes until deposits on fees were paid.
The Ministry of Education then announced that no school in Swaziland had been given permission to charge top-up fees because none had made the necessary formal request to do so. Permission can take up to a year.
In February 2017, nearly E2.7 billion (US$216 million) was allocated in the national budget for the kingdom's security forces that comprise the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF), Royal Swaziland Police Service (RSPS) and His Majesty's Correctional Services (HMCS). This was 12.4 percent of Swaziland's total budget.
An organisation called Teach According to Qualification (TEATQ) reported that the main reason the Teaching Service Commission was not hiring teachers on a permanent basis was because it could save more than E30 million annually. It estimated there were more than 1,000 teachers on contracts. The Legal Notice 147 of 2009, states that contract teachers should be made permanent after working for two years.
Children across Swaziland are going hungry because the government has failed to pay suppliers for food to be distributed free in the so-called zondle programme. This has been going on for more than a year despite continual promises from government that the crisis has been resolved.
Phephisa Khoza, the editor of the Swazi News, wrote a scathing attack on the government which 'has absolved itself of its responsibility to provide free and quality education to its citizens'.
Khoza wrote (27 January 2018), 'In the past there has been talk about limited resources, but this is not the real issue when it comes to public education. We have heard of teachers being hired but not paid, of crumbling infrastructure and how some school administrations are operating as dictators, demanding top-up fees much against government policy.
'However, they cannot be blamed for their actions as they are forced into such decisions by government's failure to provide the essential resources to enable schools to perform at the maximum level.'
Ackel Zwane, the veteran columnist of the Swazi Observer, wrote (26 January 2018), 'Since the introduction of Free Primary Education, government did not mobilise resources to make the programme sustainable, especially with the anticipation of ever rising numbers at intake.
'In the same vein, government did not provide for effective teacher training for the task but instead went to embark on highly ambitious initiatives such as Religious Education compulsory instead of the sciences that are responsible for the overall development, including making correct calculations to avert crises in the education system.
'The children are now overcrowded with insufficient teaching aids and furniture in almost all the public schools.'
'In some cases, parents offer to assist with the provision of desks just for the child to squeeze into that tight corner that will be home for the whole school calendar year without the teacher ever having access to him or her, all because of overcrowding in the small classrooms.'