A Bleeding Future

In the wake of the latest political unrest in Eswatini, a fierce debate about the involvement of children in the protests has ensued. It has been raised more as a question of morals whether children need to be involved in the politics of the country.

Those claiming higher moral ground are of the view that children are being exploited and manipulated by the pro-democracy movement. It is no wonder that the tinkhundla system has inculcated a culture of raising docile children using the deep ideologies of culture and social norms. The reality of the average Swazi child is marred with poverty, no equal access to health and educational opportunities, child abuses and ritual killings which are forever on the rise and with the latest political developments, the risk of being shot and killed, tortured, maimed and arrested by government’s forces.

The covid 19 pandemic presented the greatest challenge for an already collapsing education system in 2020 for Eswatini. In the World Bank Eswatini Education Sector Analysis Report 2021, the following facts about the education system of Eswatini are glaring:

- That the country’s overall education budget in the past five years has been on a sharp decline, from over 25% of the overall public budget allocated to education 6 years ago, to just 16% in 2020.

- That the education system budget is focused mainly on tertiary education where only 3 percent of the education population of the country is.

- That only 8% of the students who graduated at Primary school make it to tertiary institutions in the country.

- That of the 618 primary schools only 275 secondary schools exist to absorb the students and that only 1 public university, 3 private ones and 34 public and private colleges exist.

Considering that about 58% of all Swazi children are orphaned or vulnerable as cited in the WHO 2019 country report, it means that children who are more likely to stay at school until tertiary level are those from more stable backgrounds and households. In the same World Bank report, Eswatini’s education infrastructure and investment is much lower than that of other countries within the region such as Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and South Africa.

In this report which took 12 months of ground data collection by the technical team, the main barriers to continued access to education for children who drop out is amazingly NOT the teenage pregnancies that are mostly cited but financial limitations at both primary and secondary school levels. ‘The COST of schooling is by far the most common reason for dropping out’ (World Bank, 2021). Another sobering truth found in the report is that 70% of children who are eligible for the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children grant by government ARE NOT receiving it and the reasons are still to be investigated.

In essence the eSwatini education system has been structured this way:

- 0.01% of the budget is focused on Early Childhood Education where 70% of the population is living below the poverty line. This means only the children of the 20% percent affluent urban families get a great kick-start to education.

- 23% of the public education budget is focused on the 10% of the education population that makes it to tertiary level while the other 63% is funded with only 13% of this budget.

It comes as no surprise that the newly appointed acting Minister of Labor and Social Security Phila Buthelezi, one of the latest stomach driven cheerleaders of the Tinkhundla regime had the audacity to threaten students who are protesting with not being offered scholarships by the government. In his threats, the Hon. Minister may have forgotten that statistically he was only leveling this threat to only 8% of the overall population of school going students who still had less than a 50% chance in that group to get the scholarships anyway. The tinkhundla government has taken every resource, even the most basic of fundamental human rights and weaponized them.

The government in its regulatory authority and responsibility has structured the education system of the country just like every other sector, to benefit most only a small portion of the population. By narrowing the opportunities available in education it is keeping most of the populace uneducated and therefore in unending poverty. Maybe we should be asking if this is by incident or by design?

The Tinkhundla political ideology has been founded on the scarcity mentality, maybe we should question if it is really because there isn’t enough to go about to create a better living for everyone or it is because the ones in power believe that power should be administered sparingly. Why else would 70% of eligible beneficiaries be excluded from the OVC grant?

On 17th March 2020 the late Prime Minister Mandvulo Dlamini announced the closure of schools due to the COVID -19 pandemic after just one confirmed case in Eswatini. This began a the almost two year-long closure of schools, which has seen Swazi children stay at home with almost zero learning except for efforts made by individual schools or parents. Attempts by the government to introduce alternative forms of remote learning have not been very effective. One would wonder how it can be possible to adapt our education to the challenges of COVID-19 with an ever shrinking education budget.

When university students eventually took to the streets in May 2021 to challenge the police brutality which led to the death of one Thabani Nkomonye, a can of worms was opened which ushered in the current period of political instability. The atrocities committed by the government against its citizenry has known no bounds as children as young as 4years have been on the firing line. School going children were shot at, teargased, injured and incarcerated in the June protests. In the October wave of protests more and more children were the target of forces brutality and soldiers were eventually deployed to schools. It is the most senseless of events in the history of this country that government has forcefully been trying to convince the very students that it is in their best interests to ignore all the events occurring in the country and focus on school work.

The ministry of education has desperately been trying to find valid excuses for its failure to keep schools open and in its latest efforts came up with an igneous idea of having students and parents take the responsibility of keeping schools open through an unclear consent form which assigns parents to guarantee security for school property and children to desist from protesting. With many schools convening urgent parents meetings at which parents have unanimously refused to sign the forms, it remains to be seen if the MoE will manage to keep schools open for the remainder of 2021.

The plight of the Swazi child under the Tinkhundla system is not one filled with hope for any bright future. Children of this generation have been exposed to events never experienced in the history of this society. It may seem that the average Swazi child stands a better chance fighting for an unknown outcome of a future in a democratic Swaziland than a future under the current Tinkhundla system. Children are the future of all societies and the investments we make in raising them is the message we as the present generation send into the future. They’re the legacy we will leave behind, a gift of love or hate. Presently, the future of the Swazi nation is bleeding to death at the hands of a government not elected by the people. The children should be the reason we usher in a democratic Swaziland.