Mbabane: Widespread riots at more than 80 schools throughout the country have forced a mass shutdown of learning institutions on the first day of the resumption of normal classes since March 2020. Not a single region was sparred of the mayhem as learners have defied the government’s instruction for them to return to their studies.
Scenes of school-going children out on the streets and on major traffic routes protesting vigorously and violently were witnessed throughout the day on Monday. At some schools students engaged in acts of arson as they burned school infrastructure and furniture. It was absolute chaos in most of the schools that were caught up in the riots with windows being smashed and teachers being threatened by the unruly pupils.
Many Headteachers were forced to suspend the opening of their schools because of the volatile situation. The state of security in many of the schools was so bad that the schools’ administration decided that they were no longer prepared to risk the lives of the teaching staff.
Following the suspension and closure of the schools, the pupils then took to the streets and public roads where they went on to place stones and logs and to burn tyres. At Somnjalose High School in Ezulwini, pupils blocked the road and stoned some vehicles until they were dispersed by police who used teargas and rubber bullets.
However, the police were stretched thinly and were overwhelmed by the number of riots that were occurring sporadically throughout the country. The police found it difficult to attend to all the reported cases in time.
In Manzini, the Headteacher Bheki Fakudze said “the pupils attempted to burn one of the form five classrooms and the Science laboratory. We were then advised to close the school for security reasons by the Regional Education Officer (REO.) The pupils then engaged in demonstrations on the public road outside the school premises. They were dispersed by the police who fired tear gas canisters at them.”
The riots appear to be linked to the arrests of the Members of Parliament Mduduzi “Bacede” Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube as well as fugitive Member of Parliament Mduduzi “Gawuzela” Simelane. The students are demanding that the Members of Parliament be released.
At Piggs Peak in the Hhohho region demonstrating pupils from Piggs Peak Central High School displayed a large banner with the words “no democracy, no school” on it. They vowed to continue with their protest action along with students from other schools in the region such as Maguga High School and Emagobodvo High School.
The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) says schools were not prepared to open as there were a lot of administration issues. The Secretary-General of SNAT, Sikelela Dlamini said “as an association we were vocal about being against the burning of property. We had also noted a growing trend countrywide of student protests. It is very unfortunate that these protests are gaining momentum and we had previously stated that we were against the re-opening and return of all learners to schools.”
In an apparent response to the situation, Parliamentarians demanded that the Minister of Education and Training, Lady Howard Mabuza submit a report on what is happening as a matter of urgency. Senator Mkhululi Dlamini had initially requested that the Minister submit the report within 24 hours. However, the Senate President, Lindiwe Dlamini pleaded for more time for the Minister from the mover of the motion. The Parliamentarians then granted Minister Mabuza 72 hours after which the issue of the student riots will be debated. “The report should mention how the external examinations will be affected and what arrangements are being made with the external examination bodies,” said Mkhululi Dlamini.