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SAFE EDUCATION IS SACROSANCT

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What happened in schools on Monday, and later, is very worrying.

Why particularly so?  Because these are our kids. They are the Eswatini society of tomorrow; and they appear very unhappy and easily inclined to destruction. The impact of the disruption on that day – 82 schools having to close immediately – is too substantial to ignore. Sending security personnel, hopefully under strict instructions to avoid or minimise personal injury to others, is necessary, but will not resolve the fundamental problems.

It’s merely controlling the symptoms and not addressing the cause. Even if the ugliness of the protests dies away, the underlying causes will simmer and inevitably rear their ugly head again in future. A full commission of enquiry, or a suitably appropriate alternative, is vital; announced without a moment’s delay and launched within days and not weeks. And conclusions publicly announced.

It would have been completely different if the complaints of the pupils had been peacefully directed through petitions. That is the right way to go. Unfortunately, a number of critical factors came into play in that regard. Firstly, the recent petition to the US Embassy was not handled in a fully cooperative manner by the security personnel. Militant groups in the country are encouraging the youngsters to be violent; and a further dimension is that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders. The youth of every society are impressionable, excitable and frequently unreliable. The wisdom from life doesn’t conveniently drop into the brain in your teenage years. It is acquired through a journey; one of many years.

Burning

We were all young once; and each of us made our fair share of mistakes, some forgiveable, others less so. The burning of structures and similar damaging activity can never be justified and condoned. Furthermore, it is utterly shameful to be throwing stones at your head teacher and passing vehicles. That’s nothing short of mutiny; in the naval days of old it was a capital offence. And the more destructive the protesting is, the more self-destructive it becomes. This behaviour is giving our children a bad reputation. There is an urgent need for all group leaders and role models to appeal for calm, denouncing violence on radio and TV, and through print media.

At the same time, it is clear that pupils are very unhappy. As it turns out, the complaints are numerous in nature. Some pupils call for a national transition to a political democracy; some for the release of the two incarcerated MPs. But there are numerous other complaints, from sexual abuse of female pupils by teachers, to failure to deliver the daily school meal to pupils. If true, those are very serious, and must be addressed in an open enquiry, though with anonymity given to witnesses that offer, or are called to testify.

A female teenager abused in that manner may never recover emotionally. Failing to deliver on school meals is also very serious, not least because there are still many disadvantaged children for whom the school meal is the only decent one of the day. You cannot leave a child hungry; it’s a challenging humanitarian issue. There are also pleas for vaccination, which coincide with an erratic response from the adult population. And please don’t forget the need for regular financial auditing of schools; all, not just a few.

But teenagers can often be easily led by rabble-rousers, armed to the teeth with their own extreme strategies, using other young people for their own ends. It may of course be young people, all screaming from the heart, but it might equally be their succumbing to pressure, physical or mental, imposed by ringleaders. It then all culminates in a lust for the power that comes from creating damage. That is what the commission of enquiry should investigate thoroughly.

Impartiality

The great advantage of a formal enquiry is that, if the right people are appointed, it can enable impartiality and objectivity to prevail. It’s a win-win. The pupils will know immediately that they have an opportunity to testify, and that their complaints will be heard and judged accordingly. Broader society will be assured of a fair enquiry that will sort the truth from the lies, and identify the necessary remedial action. The pupils are just the tip of the iceberg. The irony in such a course of action is that what is being recommended is a form of dialogue; a bit like marriage counselling.

Where two sides can’t come sensibly to the table it is most productive to identify a suitably qualified, independent arbitration panel. Why not try it with the political issues? Not SADC; they’re tame; nor strangely motivated ‘experts’. We need good, globally respected representatives of stable and successful countries. Hearing views and suggestions; mediating and guiding; not imposing. Let’s try it.

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