Boycott the reed dance
MBABABE – The Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) is lobbying parents against releasing their children, especially those who are school-going, to attend this year’s Reed Dance (Umhlanga) ceremony.
This year, the main day for the dance is September 2. The annual cultural ceremony is where thousands of maidens, most of whom are pupils, gather to celebrate their chastity.
They usually spend five days away from home and dance for Their Majesties on the last day, which is then declared a holiday. This year, the event starts on August 27 and ends on September 2. The maidens are expected to register on the first day at the Ludzidzini Royal Residence.
They will then be commissioned to cut the reed the next day.
TUCOSWA, which was deregistered by government three months ago, believes that it would be a waste of time for female pupils to attend the annual ceremony because they need to study to make up for time lost in the past three weeks, when teachers were on strike.
The Times SUNDAY has established that TUCOSWA executive members have had a number of meetings where the resolution to convince teachers and parents not to send their children to the Reed Dance was taken. TUCOSWA felt that there was a need to support the teachers as they formed part of the membership through the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT).
Barnes Dlamini, TUCOSWA President confirmed that such a plan was tabled during one of their meetings.
He said they were prepared to take a drastic stand when it came to convincing parents not to allow their children to take part in the Reed Dance. "The teacher’s strike has been going on for three weeks now and government has failed to find a solution and a way forward," he said.
"When you look at the time the pupils have spent outside class, you can tell that it will be difficult for them to catch up. As an organisation, we believe that not attending the Reed Dance would be one of the ways that would help them catch up on their studies."
Dlamini said during the meetings, there was even a proposal that schools should not be closed in order for those pupils who would be writing their external examinations to be able to cover their full syllabi for the year. "Even if the schools would not be closed, we believe that pupils should be kept at home and parents monitor their studies. A lot of time has been wasted while the teachers were in the streets. There is no way we can allow more time to be wasted. The learners spent a lot of time away from school and it should be upon us to ensure they don’t stay away from class any longer," he said.
Dlamini said the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) executive was aware of the plan but they were yet to meet to discuss it at length.
"The teachers are aware of the proposed plan and they are supporting it. We just need to meet and finalise the logistics but I can confirm that as TUCOSWA, we have taken a stand to lobby parents not to send their children to the Reed Dance even if the schools are closed," he said.
Muzi Mhlanga, SNAT Secretary General, did not come out clearly when asked if they were aware of the lobbying.
He said even if they supported the suggestion, it would have to be discussed and the decision taken by the teachers themselves. "We cannot take the decision on our own. Teachers would have to decide on such a move," he said.
"Teachers might have other means of covering up for time lost. This includes teaching on weekends. If they believe that this could be one of the ways that would benefit the pupils, they would have to take the decision and we will act according to what they have decided."
September 3 a public holiday
MBABANE – This year’s Reed Dance main day is on September 2.
Since this will be a Sunday, the public holiday will be shifted to Monday, September 3.
This was confirmed by Prince Gcokoma, Minister of Home Affairs.
The minister said maidens were expected to arrive for registration on August 27, 2012.
On August 28, His Majesty King Mswati III is expected to commission them to cut the reed. Normally they get the reed from Mpisi Farm near Mafutseni and Bhamsakhe near Malkerns.
The minister said the maidens were expected to deliver the reed on September 1, while the main day would be on September 2.
"Since the main day would be on September 2, which is a Sunday, the public holiday will be shifted to Monday (September 3)," he said.
Asked about TUCOSWA’s plans to convince parents and teachers against releasing maidens to attend this year’s reed dance, the minister said he was not aware of such plans. "I am not aware of what you are asking me about," he said.
Will schools remain open?
MBABANE – Pat Muir, Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education and Training, says boycotting the annual Reed Dance ceremony would not be a solution because there are other means that could be explored to recover time lost by pupils during the ongoing teachers strike action.
The PS said there was no way pupils could be stopped from attending the annual cultural ceremony. "If we talk of the time lost, we should try other means to recover it," he said.
Asked if there was a possibility that schools would remain open during the Reed Dance activities week, Muir said this would have to be a government decision. "As a ministry, we cannot decide whether or not to close the schools but instead this has to be government’s decision," he said.
Percy Simelane, Government Press Secretary, said since no one was forced to attend the Reed Dance, nobody was expected to force those who wanted to attend the ceremony not to do so.
Simelane said though, that government was not aware of such the plan to boycott the ceremony. "Anyone who denies another the right to do what he or she wants at any given time is against the constitution of the country," he said.
"We expect no one to stop pupils from attending the cultural event. Nobody wants his or her right taken away from them and that should also be the same with the pupils."
Meanwhile, Timothy Velabo Mtetfwa, acting Ludzidzini Governor asked not to comment. "I would ask not to comment for now because I am not aware of what you are asking me about," he said.
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