22 February 2019

Swaziland King's Plan for SADC-Wide University of Transformation Quietly Shelved

The plan made by King Mswati III, the absolute monarch of Swaziland / eSwatini, for his kingdom to build a new 'university of transformation' to take students from across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has been quietly shelved.

He made his pledge in 2016 when he was chair of the organisation. He said it would be up and running within a year. He also said Swaziland would pay for 300 students to study at the university.

Now, SADC has quietly dropped the idea. In a move in August 2018 that received little publicity at the time, SADC said it would try to create a 'virtue university' instead. No date for it to start operating was set.

A virtual university provides higher education programmes through electronic media, typically the Internet. No details have been worked out yet but it is expected that programmes would be made available through existing universities across the SADC region.

SADC said in a statement the university would 'focus on entrepreneurship, innovation, commercialisation, technology transfer, enterprise development, digital and knowledge economy, to support the SADC industrialisation agenda'.

King Mswati made the SADC university the major promise of his one-year tenure as Chair of SADC which started in August 2016.

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.'

The King and the media in Swaziland that enthusiastically and uncritically reported his 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 had been unable to start teaching that academic year because students were protesting against cuts in scholarships.

Later, King Mswati announced the University of Transformation would initially be housed at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Swaziland. Limkokwing is a private university. The King did not choose UNISWA, where he is Chancellor.

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.

The failure to deliver the university is one of many promises the King has not met. These included a plan partly financed from in the oil state of Qatar to build a US$4.8bn 'world class facility' that would store at least a three-month supply of fuel for Swaziland. Other plans that failed to materialise included one to build a pharmaceutical plant, a food processing plant, a bottled water plant, a cosmetics plant and a granite and marble venture to create more than 3,000 jobs.

In April 2009 King Mswati 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' creating 15,000 new jobs.

In October 2010, the Swazi Government, which is not elected but handpicked by the King, 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 the King was said to have teamed up with pop singer Michael Jackson to bring a 'Netherland-style' theme park to Swaziland.

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