Beneath King Mswati’s lavish lifestyle: The story of perishing teachers
Deceased teacher Sikhulile Maziya-Masango's son Sisekelo Masango showing Swaziland News editor Zweli Martin Dlamini the grave of his mother
LAMGABHI :Beneath the glittering of King Mswati lavish lifestyle lies the depression, frustration and extremely inhumane living conditions of teachers whose future of the children remains in their hands.
These are the findings of an investigation into government’s failure to fund the Free Primary Education (FPE) and how the delay in implementing the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) has now manifested into an education crisis threatening the future of children. It has been disclosed that about two weeks ago, in this community of LaMgabhi Etiyeni a depressed teacher Sikhulile Maziya-Masango collapsed and died, she was fresh from consulting a money-lending institution. This disclosure triggered an investigation by this Swaziland News that subsequently uncovered how between the period of April 2017 and March 2019, close to two hundred (200) teachers across the country died as a result of stress related illnesses. It has been confirmed that every week, the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) buries about four teachers and this includes those whose health conditions were worsened by depression. This publication reliably gathered that the depression and or frustration among the teachers across the country was not only influenced by the delay in their Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) but the lack of working resources within the schools as government struggles to fulfill its social and Constitutional obligation to fund the Free Primary Education. Senator Themba Masuku, the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Themba Masuku when responding to questions from this publication on the subject matter confirmed that the economic crisis was worsening and advised teachers to engage the Ministry of Education to find solutions to these challenges. “The economic situation is really bad Dlamini and teachers should engage with the Ministry of Education to find out the things we can prioritize. We need to be realistic, objective and stop protesting because that would not bring the money. Lets just sit down and identify the urgent resources that need to be provided, resulting in the frustration of teachers. If it’s a ruler, a pencil or a pen, lets buy those things while we are working on the economic recovery. Teachers through SNAT, should meet the Education Ministry and discuss these issues, this could be done without submitting a petition but in a round table,” said the DPM. This publication visited the homestead of deceased Sikhulile Maziya-Masango to witness the grave and further verify information regarding the causes of her death. Speaking to this publication in an interview Dumsani Masango, the husband of the deceased confirmed that she would sound stressed when sharing with him the working conditions in her place of employment.
“Its true she was a sickly person but we didn’t expect her to just collapse and die. She had a Blood Pressure (BP) and from time to time she would share her frustration regarding the working conditions at her place of employment. But I didn’t take that seriously thinking these were minor problems that happens in every working environment. However, she later collapsed and died. On that particular day, she didn’t show any signs suggesting that she might just die” he said. But insiders within the school told this Swaziland News that the deceased teacher, shortly after consulting the money-lending company for a loan, returned stressed. This was confirmed by Sikelela Dlamini,the Secretary General of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) who said according to their statistics over 100 teachers were allegedly seeking psychological treatment as a result of stress. Speaking to this publication, Dlamini blamed government for the plight of teachers saying the ‘chorus’ suggesting that there was no money only applies when it comes to the welfare of civil servants. Dlamini further confirmed that every week SNAT was burying three or four teachers adding that most of their members died as a result of stress related illness. “The DPM is talking ‘nonsense’ by saying we must consult the Education Ministry to find solutions on these issues, he knows that the Ministry has no capacity to resolve these challenges. We can engage the Education Ministry, but nothing will change, it is the central government that should prioritize education. I would make an example: As a country, we bought a ‘pregnant’ private jet for the King that later gave birth to another one, there are now two private jets. When it's time to address issues affecting civil servants, government always claim there is no money but its always available for royalty,” said SNAT Secretary General. Indeed, there’s overwhelming evidence suggesting that as the socio-economic situation manifests into a crisis in the country, King Mswati and his royal family continue to live an extravagant lifestyle. This year he celebrated his 51st birthday much against austerity measures introduced by the government. On or around the year 2017, Business Insider, an American financial and business Online news publication crowned King Mswati as the third richest Monarch in Africa with an estimated fortune of $200million(about E3billion). But despite that, about 70% of the population lives below the poverty line in this tiny Kingdom and government normally unleashes a battalion of police officers on teachers and other civil servants who protest against the social challenges. Insiders within the teaching profession alleged that the situation was not only worsened by the delay in the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) but the non-availability of working resources within the schools. “We are the most frustrated professionals in the country yet parents and government expect good results. Another thing, the government wants all children in primary schools to pass, even those who fail, we are told to promote them to the next class, it's a huge crisis. When a teacher dies, those who remained behind are loaded with extra duties as government has frozen hiring,” said an insider. On or around 05 July 2018, the European Union (EU) and the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini signed the last grant agreement for the Free Primary Education, an initiative that was under the EU Support to Education and Training (SET) Project. The EU funding was meant to assist Eswatini to achieve universal primary education being one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But now, just a few months after the last grant agreement was signed, it has emerged that government was struggling to fund the Free Primary Education thus throwing the education system into the deep end crisis. Insiders further confirmed that government was not only struggling with the payment of the FPE but schools across the country were now running short of human resource as government stopped hiring in the midst of the current economic crisis. Mbuso Shabalala, a head teacher at LaMgabhi Community Primary School, where deceased Sikhulile-Maziya Masango worked confirmed the shortage of teachers as one of the main challenges. “I may not be aware of the challenges she was facing that might have resulted in her death but the main challenge I can confirm is the shortage of teachers. The issue of government delaying to provide working resources is a long story that you are also aware of” he said. Simanga Mamba, the Chairman of the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) said as a Commission they don’t deal with the welfare of teachers but their task was structured mainly on recruitment. “I think you should direct your questions to the Ministry of Education, as TSC we are not responsible for the welfare of teachers. Our mandate is more on recruitment and even on that, we are guided by the policies of the CSC” said the TSC Chairman. An independent investigation by this publication further uncovered that the situation within the schools and the plight of teachers was now negatively impacting students as some educators would allegedly vest their anger while teaching. A Form 5 student in one of the schools in the country told this publication that frustrated teachers would sometimes blast government and speak politics in class while teaching and this was confusing them as students. “Sometimes a teacher would ignore a subject and speak politics in class, blasting government.This confuses us as students because we are not aware of the challenges between them and government” said the student who cannot be named for ethical reasons. When reached for comments, Lucky Lukhele, the Spokesperson of the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) said teachers are now trapped in debts adding that some even resorted to committing suicide due to frustration. Lukhele blamed government for the plight of teachers saying it was surprising that for three years, these educators had not received their Cost of Living despite that they were heavily taxed and inflation was hitting hard in their pockets. He said most teachers were breadwinners - feeding more than twenty (20) extended family members and the current situation was not only affecting them, but their families too. “Now we have the 15% VAT and many other issues that are added to their burden. We have teachers who support many other extended family members, as you know that if there’s one person who is working at home, he or she feeds twenty to thirty people. This is the catastrophe created by the Swazi government,the King in particular. Actually, each and every Swazi is now affected by what is happening in the country” he said. But Lady Howard Mabuza, the Minister of Education and Training said government was aware of the challenges affecting teachers including the lack of resources in schools. Responding to questions from this publication on the subject matter, the Minister appealed for patience as the new government works towards restoring the economy. “It is not like we are not aware that the situation is getting worse, but we appeal for cooperation as we try to restore the economy. We know the challenges of teachers and we are aware that working resources in various schools are not adequate. As government, we are saying: Lets come together and identify key areas that we can prioritize while we work towards restoring the economy. The situation is really bad, blaming one another and organizing strikes will not bring the money, lets work on the economy and address these issues and once the situation becomes better, we will then say: here is the money lets address this and that” said the Minister. Reached for comments, Emmanuel Ndlangamandla, the Executive Director of the Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organization (CANGO) said teachers have found themselves in a very difficult situation. He applauded these educators for remaining committed to their calling as they know the future of their children lays on effective teaching and learning. “Government has to revisit its position on COLA and award something even if it’s below inflation. It is unbearable that inflation continues to erode incomes yet obligations also increase for teachers. What makes matters worse is the shortage of working material and tools that are critical for learning. To this end, parents must also consider contributing something and government should speed up payments to schools as a matter of urgency” said the CANGO Director.