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SPARE THE LIVES

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“REST assured there is something that is going to happen and it will be like we are disrespectful yet it will be because of the experience we are getting from the round-table.”

These are the alleged words of former Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) President Freedom Dlamini uttered during the teachers 75/8 Biennial Conference held at Esibayeni Lodge this week.


The round-table Dlamini is referring to, is the salary negotiations talks where the Government Negotiations Team (GNT) has, for the second consecutive year, offered a zero per cent cost of living adjustment (CoLa).


The statement by Dlamini cannot be taken lightly given the shocking developments of the past few weeks, where we saw some teachers blockade a public road, armed themselves with rocks and pelted police officers who attempted to remove them. This altercation resulted in the officers opening fire with live rounds of ammunition, injuring one teacher in the arm. One teacher physically manhandled an officer and wrestled him to the ground. The actions of both parties deserve to be condemned. Violent protests are not what we want to see dictating the order of business in this country.


Days later police were beating up a journalist for no apparent reason when a protest broke out in Nhlangano. The National Commissioner of Police, Isaac Magagula, has apologised to this newspaper for this and has assigned a senior cop to address it. While we await the outcome of this promise, we brace ourselves for more protests if Freedom Dlamini’s statement is anything to go by.


To underscore the mood in the teachers camp, is the protest against former Education and Training Minister Dr Phineas Magagula at the teachers conference. A former president of the organisation, Magagula, was disrupted during his speech and labelled a sellout. He suffered the sins of his Cabinet team members and cannot pass the buck because they always preached that they worked as a collective. Discontent is high among the populace and some form of relief needs to be forthcoming soon; but from where?


Government’s ability to respond financially has been worsened by reports coming from South Africa this week. Prospects of increased economic growth have been dampened by South Africa slipping into a technical recession following negative growth figures in the last quarter. We all know that when big brother SA sneezes, all SACU member countries catch the flu. We receive over 60 per cent of our national budget funding from SACU and SA is the major contributor to this pool, therefore, SACU receipts may plunge further.

This simply means there is a need for further cuts to government spending. Last week, the Central Bank of Eswatini warned of a possible delink of the LiLangeni, which is pegged to the SA Rand, if austerity measures were not implemented immediately.


Whatever the outcome of the next six to eight weeks before a new Cabinet team takes charge, we encourage peaceful demonstrations which can also have good effect. Workers have just been given the backing of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that compelled government to control the behaviour of the security forces during peaceful public protests. It would be very unfortunate and downright naive if the teachers were ‘test-driving’ their new protection by deliberately causing a traffic jam and attempting to injure the police officers who tried to move them.


That said, we cannot ignore the fact that the patience of teachers, and their public servant colleagues, has been stretched to the limit. For two years, government has offered a zero per cent cost of living adjustment on the one hand, but has raised taxes and user fees on the other. Common sense suggests that the public servants are being deliberately driven into poverty and this is bound to raise anger, frustration and subsequently some form of retaliation, which we see playing itself out in the violent clashes.


The statement by the former SNAT president suggests worse is yet to come and who knows, this time there could be dead bodies. These bodies may not only come from live rounds of ammunition; they could also come from neglect in hospitals where we saw nurses leave patients unattended on Wednesday as they engaged in meetings over their next plan of action to get government to listen to their plight.


The biggest mistake government can make is to think that it will use military force to restore law and order should things get out of hand. We are not a military State and never wish to be. This approach would most certainly drive away the investors we need to create jobs and boost the economy. We need our peace, which is just about the only incentive we have left to lure investors. People need jobs and businesses need to be paid to keep the economy working. Government is failing in this regard and has turned on the people with taxes.


The popular ‘Dubais’ are now beyond affordability for the low income earners following an increase in import duties. Buying a house has also been put beyond the reach of the middle class with the increase in conveyancing fees and stamp duty. Fuel prices have risen and so has VAT, the combination of which has driven the prices of several commodities up. Public servants must live but there has been no change in their living wages.

This is a tall ask for the ordinary man on the street but it seems beyond the comprehension of the high earners who used to swing in comfortable chairs at Hospital Hill. Our Cabinet has left office and, frankly, nobody will miss this group. Principal secretaries are now in charge, albeit until the next government takes office. Can they ensure a smooth opening of schools next week?

Can they ensure patients find all the medication they need and receive proper treatment from nurses in hospitals and clinics? Can they stop the bleed of public funds, abuse of government property; ensure every worker is accounted for in the payroll? Most importantly, can they deliver CoLa to the workers and avert violent demonstrations countrywide? We can only ask of our controlling officers that they do what Cabinet failed to do to ensure that nobody dies from all of this.

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