Poor Benny Comes to Town!

“…If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch….

…Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, ⁠And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!”

The above stanza, taken from a poem entitled If by English Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, written circa 1895 and first published in 1910, should serve as befitting advice to Amos Mahlalela – some fellow from the ultra-remote village of Lomahasha in the Lubombo region who is held to ransom by folk-methods of administration that have seen him refuse to transform from his ruralitarian mindset into acting consistent with the serious public office he is now holding.

The poem by Kipling is a tribute to Leander Starr Jameson – leader of the failed Jameson Raid against the Transvaal Republic to overthrow the Boer Government of Paul Kruger. History fanatics will recall that the failure of that mercenary coup d'état aggravated the political tensions between Great Britain and the Boers, which led to the Second Boer War (1899-1902). The poem is written in the form of paternal advice to the poet's son, John. Kipling wrote the poem as if he were talking to his son. He gives advice to help the young man find his place in the world, and to live with integrity and dignity.

Incongruously, Amos Mahlalela is failing to heed the advice by Rudyard Kipling on “walking with kings and not losing the common touch”, as he seems to be losing the common touch as he dines and wines with royalty. To the unversed, Amos is the man who served as head of Ngwane Teacher Training College for years. Previously, he was head teacher at Ngwane Central High school in Nhlangano. He has just been appointed to be Chair of the Teaching Service Commission (TSC), replacing Simanga Mamba who has since been appointed as Chair of the Civil Service Commission (CSC).

Sworn in just last month in the presence of Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education and Training Bertram Stewart, School’s Manager Macanjana Motsa, Dr Hugh Magagula, member of the TSC, SNAT president Mbonwa Dlamini and other officials from the Education ministry, Mahlalela was given a clear mandate of dealing with corruption and maladministration within the TSC, with the ministry’s PS mentioning that there were a lot of issues that need to be resolved within the commission.

Making headlines for wrong reasons

Weirdly, instead of sticking to that mandate and embarking on a stakeholder engagement exercise with the intention to learn and advance the TSC, Mahlalela has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. He made threats concerning what he calls underperforming teachers and says they will not get paid. He also boldly said teachers without a job should go to farming. What a shame! We at the people’s leading weekend online newspaper, The Bridge, want to call Mahlalela to order and to warn him never to fall on the wrong side of history by, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, losing the common touch because he is now walking with kings!

The opulence and excitement of the moment will soon be replaced by the thoughtfulness of men and women who will run people-centred institutions in a not-so-distant democratic Swaziland; hence Mahlalela must be careful and refuse to be carried away.

For starters, he served as Head of a school that was not one of the best in terms of getting desired results at Ngwane Central High School, before going to Ngwane Teacher Training College. As a poor-performing teacher himself, by his definition, would he have loved to be denied a salary? He must stop treating teachers as non-professionals – teachers are qualified professionals who are aware of the highest standard of professional conduct to follow in their line of duty. They know they have to work conscientiously and with diligence and regularity; they do not need barbaric threats by a man like Mahlalela who wants to please the king and royalty.

While we know that he got into the TSC office through pleasing the king by clamping down on students’ strikes at Ngwane College and frustrating the total development of students, he must know that an obsession to please eSwatini’s royal family does not usually end well – a darling today and an outcast tomorrow!

His background not squeaky clean

Allegations of bribery for entry at Ngwane College are well documented and some staff members there still question Mahlalela’s manner of admissions as well as disciplinary processes regarding students (subject to future investigation – we are here for that!). Therefore, he must not seek solace in intimidating teachers. He must know better that for one to talk about performance of teachers in this country he or she has to start by looking at a number of issues. The living and working conditions of teachers are dreadful; some schools are struggling with basics like water and electricity as well as other tools for teaching and learning.

In the performance of its functions, the TSC is supposed to seek the advice of organizations like SNAT on matters affecting the Teaching Service with a view to improving and promoting the conditions of service for all teachers in the Service. Among other things Mahlalela should be focusing on the conditions of service for teachers, not this Benny-comes-to-town tendency.

For his own information, factors influencing employee performance are the ones that should be considered first before he talks about “stopping salaries”. Among these are: training and development, teacher engagement, tools and equipment and morale-boosting of the teachers. For the Teaching Service to prosper, teachers must be highly motivated and the socio-economic conditions of the communities, including those of students, must be addressed.

You cannot just rush to talk about cutting salaries – that is sheer madness. Where do you get that mandate as Amos Mahlalela? Who are you? Get a chair and sit down! The fact that the Minister for Education and Training has not called Mahlalela to order must serve to show the type of government we have in this country. The least said about his statement to the effect that teachers without jobs must go to farming the better. Poor Benny comes to town – shame!

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