15 March 2018

Swaziland: Police Fire During Student Roadblock

Armed police in Swaziland fired rubber bullets and arrested eight students when they put a rubbish skip in the middle of a road during a protest. It happened at Limkokwing University, Mbabane.

Students were protesting about poor wi-fi internet connections. It was part of a continuing protest against poor teaching and facilities.

The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, reported on Thursday (15 March 2018) students put a 'litterbin' in the road near a market which caused motorists to slow down and 'gingerly negotiate'.

The newspaper reported, 'This prompted police to spring into action and fire warning shots aimed at dispersing the rowdy students.' It added students were 'shocked to the core'.

Students were protesting that internet facilities had been poor for a long time and they were unable to meet deadlines to produce assignments. The university has since been closed indefinitely.

Limkokwing is the private university that was chosen by King Mswati to house his University of Transformation to take students from across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region. The King became chair of SADC in August 2016 when he pledged the university would be operating by August 2017. Nothing substantial happened and the plan remains stalled.

Limkokwing, part of an international group of campuses, has been controversial since it opened in Swaziland in 2011. Students and education commentators have highlighted the poor quality of courses, staff and resources. Limkokwing in Swaziland only offers 'associate degrees' which are at a level below Bachelor degrees and in many colleges are known as diplomas.

In 2016, a Swaziland parliamentary committee investigated the standard of qualifications held by academic staff at the university after students petitioned that many lecturers only held Bachelor degrees and had just themselves qualified from the university.

At that time fees for each Swazi student was E8,000 (US$577) a year for tuition. The government added an additional E33,700 as accommodation and meal allowance and E9,000 as a book allowance.

Educational standards at Limkokwing are lower than those at other universities, including the University of Swaziland. It does not require students to have qualifications in the English language. In June 2012, Bandile Mkhonta, Head of Human Resource for Limkokwing in Mbabane, 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 Swazi Observer reported Mkhonta saying Limkokwing had fewer Ph.Ds because it was a 'non-conventional' university whose curriculum was mainly based on practice than theory.

The university was launched in Swaziland only after an intervention by King Mswati. In June 2011, it emerged that the university's founder Tan Sri Dato Lim Kok Wing had a meeting with King Mswati and convinced him that Swaziland needed a new university - and Limkokwing should be it.

He persuaded the King that low-level courses in such subjects as Graphic Designing, TV & Film Production, Architectural Technology, Advertising, Creative Multimedia, Information Technology, Event Management, Business Information Technology, Journalism and Media, Public Relations and Business Management, would help Swaziland which is mainly an agricultural society to prosper.

Once the King gave his support nobody in his kingdom stood in its way. Limkokwing started in Swaziland illegally because an Act of Parliament was needed to set up a university, but Limkokwing was allowed to start without parliament's approval.

In 2013, the university awarded King Mswati an honorary doctorate in 'human capital development.'

The cash-strapped government that was seeking ways to save money on higher education at the kingdom's established University of Swaziland offered Limkokwing US$2 million a year it could not afford for scholarships for up to 800 students.

Soon after Limkokwing opened, students began protesting that they were not getting their allowances and there were no textbooks and too few laptops. There were at least 20 protests, class boycotts and closures during the first year after it opened. Police used teargas and rubber bullets against protesting students. One student was shot in the leg.

In October 2016 police fired gunshots at students at Limkokwing and at least four students received 'serious injuries' during protests about the poor quality of teaching at the university and inferior facilities.

There have been numerous protests at Limkokwing, and across other campuses in Swaziland, against government for not paying allowances on time.

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