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RESPOND TIMEOUSLY TO CRITICAL ISSUES

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The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth” - Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, Dutch philosopher and Christian scholar, 1466-1565.

With due respect, to our government, the phrase ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’, at times, and more-often-than-not, aptly and fittingly applies, especially in relation to her often lethargic and nonchalant response to some matters of national importance. In my books, the phrase appropriately describes our civil authority’s often adamantine and obstinate attitude towards matters that call for a change (in attitude) in responding timeously to critical issues. In reiterating, I am humbly saying this with due respect, but also with brutal honesty - as I see it. 

Of course, this may not go down well with those subservient to the dogma or tenets of our system of government. Sadly, in this life, there often comes a time when the brutal truth has to be told - without fear or favour, and irrespective of the consequences. Concerning truth, the upright and moral in society always caution that, ‘better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie’. I am not sure why they say that, but read between the lines.

students

I do not know about you, dear reader, but to yours truly, the now, more-often-than-not, perennial issue of running battles (protest actions) between tertiary students and our civil authority, over the contentious (tincabekelwano, reluctance, or whatever?) stance by government in awarding scholarships and/or allowances to tertiary students, as well as some other related issues, is not something to shrug off any longer, looking the other way. Time for finding a lasting solution to this issue is long overdue. We, or rather, the all-important stakeholders, need to act decisively before it is too late, and prevent seeds of hatred being sowed against (and the defiance for) anything named ‘authority’, by future generations.

A week or so ago, we woke up to read in our media, news which hiked up fragile, blood pressure (BP) levels in some of us elderly citizens. Such worrying news was about how – hardly three weeks after the commencement of the 2020/2021 academic year – University of Eswatini students from Kwaluseni, Mbabane and Luyengo campuses, engaged in protest action, demanding that all first-year students be awarded scholarships. The cause of disagreement; a large number of admitted students were left out from a released scholarship list, resulting in students from the Mbabane and Luyengo campuses descending to the Kwaluseni campus to demonstrate at the entrance of the tertiary institution. The rest, as they say, is history.

media

According to media accounts, students were aggrieved by the fact that the Ministry of Labour and Social Security had released a scholarship (award) list, awarding scholarships to a fewer number of first-year students, compared to previous years. The protesting students put it succinctly clear that, until the ministry increased the number of students to be awarded scholarships, they would not be attending classes. What is of interest, though, is the concern raised by the students over the criteria used in awarding the scholarships. That is the million-Dollar question some of us interested in the whole rigmarole, would love to get answers to. Allegations are to the effect that, ‘more than half of the admitted students who qualified for the scholarship programme were not awarded same ….’ A real cause for concern!

Kwentekani mbamba-mbamba with the scholarships awarding criteria, we cannot help but ask? Why is it that every year, government and tertiary institutions students are always at each other’s throats, squaring off against each other over such an important, fundamental right, as the right to education of our children? We as parents and taxpayers sincerely hope that there is nothing bordering on ‘bukhonyovu’ at play in the scholarship selection process. 

The scourge of corruption in this God-forsaken country has insidiously affected many areas, government institutions being the worst hit, such that asisati kutsi kuphi, ngukuphi. You see, as ‘subjects’ of this system of government, anything even bordering on the credible, coming from our government, is always viewed with suspicion. 

It is no secret that some past (inclusive of the present one) governments in this country, had rarely been ‘citizen friendly’ (or should it be, user friendly?) and had let us down, numerous times in the past, such that even anything positive government does that has traces of transparency and reflects above aboard signals, is always viewed with suspicion. Can our authorities blame us, ‘timfucuta’, for such attitude?

We, as concerned citizens, who are also parents, would love to know kutsi ngabe lomsindvo kahle, kahle wani because last time I checked, natural logic dictates that all deserving students are, or rather should be, entitled to scholarships – ngci, period. Those being denied their future babani kani? It is encouraging, though, to note that the minister in charge of the ministry responsible for the chaos was quoted as having said: “We are working on it”. He reportedly said government was still ‘working on awarding more scholarships to deserving emaSwati students’. That is commendable, if transparent. Interestingly, he is reported to have said that, ‘pass rates for the 2020/2021 academic year were very high, hence the competition for the scholarships was very high’. Hmmm...

A couple of days or so, later during the same week (that is, a week or so ago) in what appears to have been a meticulously planned and strategic move of making their protest action to be tellingly felt, the resolute students delivered a petition in one of the most relevant institutions - the legislative arm of government - Parliament. It is important to mention that (some) members of our at-times rigid and docile Parliament have lately and somewhat pleasantly become the darlings of the electorate. 

Reason; they have won some crucial battles over a government intent on playing the despotic card to the fullest, promulgating legislation intent on muzzling the fundamental, social and economic rights of the electorate.

behaviour

As usual, the imposing, no-nonsense police, flaunting armoured casspir vehicles, were present, keeping a roving, hawk-eye on any possible, wayward behaviour by students. Unfortunately for these, more-often-than-not, violence-prone security forces, the motley crowd of students portrayed a matured behaviour and sanity won the day.

It seems that tertiary students were not done yet, with the mission of delivering petitions. Seemingly, in a deadly serious mission of delivering a poignant, impactful and significant message of, ‘enough is enough’, that would evoke an empathetic and favourable response from relevant arms of government, they also delivered the master-stroke: another petition at the heart and centre of government business - Cabinet Offices - in their quest to signal that the scholarship issue had tested their measure of tolerance for too long, and to the fullest. It was payback time. 

It is maybe of significance for me to mention that the students, led by their president, one Mlamuli Gamedze, put it in brutally honest words, clearly articulating that ‘they were submitting the petition in full defence of their basic right to education which appeared to be under the threat of being denied them by government’. Wow!

I was pretty impressed by the articulated use of words of wisdom, contained in the petition: “We are calling upon government to take education seriously (emphasis mine) and this must be reflected through the nature in which resources are allocated towards education…as students and citizens of the country, our main concern is the economic development and sustainability of our country, especially in such times, whereby all countries across the globe are suffering an economic blow due to the global COVID-19 pandemic…” 

 education

And here is the clincher: “It is a known fact that education is the salvation and primary tool to the development of any nation that seeks to develop…” If this was not the last nail in the coffin, then I am short of words to describe what it is. We are waiting with unabated breath, drooling in anticipation, eager to witness if government will respond positively to the petitions presented by tertiary institutions students over the scholarship awarding saga. You see, only a blind and deaf citizenry of this country would fail to recognise that government, as a result of her inexplicable and at times negative response to national issues of mammoth importance, has become to some, public enemy number one.

It is important also that we all row the boat in unison and in the same direction, as patriotic citizens (not timfucuta, please!) of this country. No liSwati citizen deserves to be treated as an outcast or second class citizen, undeserving of accessing basic, fundamental rights (and services) as enshrined in our Constitution.

Our children deserve to be awarded scholarships, if and when they qualify. Let us stop throttling each other. To those privileged enough to be in positions of power, I respectfully implore them to constantly guard against using off-the-cuff comments, like the use of words that belittle students who legitimately protest against abuse of their fundamental rights. 

Unsavoury, name calling like ‘ema hlongandlebe’ when they genuinely protest for their fundamental rights, makes a mockery out of those paid succulent perks and benefits to serve the nation, such benefits made possible by parents of the so-called ‘emahlongandlebe’, through taxes.

Is that asking for too much yemaSwati akitsi? Shalom! 



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