Protests rage as Swazi school coffers run dry
Hundreds of protesters returned to Swaziland’s streets on Thursday a day after violent clashes with police, as a funding crisis shut down schools in the cash-strapped mountain kingdom.
The fourth day of protests against absolute monarch King Mswati III saw nearly 1 000 people flood the streets of the southern town of Sitheki, the scene of violent confrontations between protesters and police on Wednesday.
“Nothing is left in government coffers. Why are we standing and not fighting for our rights?” asked Sibongile Mazibuko, president of the teachers’ union SNAT, in an address to marchers.
Mswati is facing growing anger as his government faces a cash crisis while he is accused of bankrupting the impoverished nation’s treasury while enjoying a lavish life with his 13 wives.
“There is still no money,” admitted Khangeziwe Mabuza, an official in the deputy prime minister’s office.
“There is no money for almost all government programmes at the moment.”
Swaziland fell into crisis when revenues from a regional customs union, the kingdom’s main source of income, plunged 60%. On Thursday, an education official said schools would be closed indefinitely.
“There is no money to do anything in schools. There is no electricity, no water. Nothing has been paid,” said Principals’ Association chief Charles Bennett.
Mswati appeared in local papers on Thursday, cutting into a seven-tier cake he said had been donated by a local bakery, as part of a celebration of his 25 years on the throne.
A party, which he threw at home earlier in the week, was a vastly scaled-down version of lavish national celebrations that had been planned to mark the milestone.
Meanwhile charity Doctors Without Borders warned that supplies of life-saving drugs treating over 70 000 Aids patients were being affected and that HIV testing kits and an immune system test had run out.
“We cannot give refills to patients for more than a month when we used to give them enough for three or four months,” said Aymeric Peguillan, the group’s chief in Swaziland.—Sapa-AFP