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MBABANE - Battle lines have been drawn between government and SNAT over the opening of schools in the country amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.
The Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) yesterday filed an urgent application at the Industrial Court, wherein it is challenging the reopening of schools.

The teachers argued that they had conducive independent inspections in more than 22 schools and found that the conditions were not conducive.
It was further their contention that in the event they proceeded to resume duties, there was a high likelihood of infections among them.
The application is, however, being met with resistance from government.


In its application, SNAT is among other prayers seeking an order interdicting the minister of Education and Training and the prime minister (PM) from directing that all high schools with Form V in the Kingdom of Eswatini should be required to open.
Respondents in the matter are the minister of Education and Training, the prime minister and the attorney general.

The association is further praying for an order directing the minister and PM to provide all teachers with all the personal protective equipment (PPE) prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to avoid the contracting and transmission of COVID-19. 

The teachers averred that this would enable them to perform their obligations without limiting the generality hereof to provide adequate ablution facilities, water, hand sanitisers, face masks, disposable gloves, cleaning  and sanitising material for all classrooms as well as appropriate safety.

The applicant (SNAT) also wants the court to direct government to comply with the provisions of Section 9 and 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, together with the directive issued by the PM to the effect that all persons, including teachers, staff and learners should wear face masks in public spaces such as schools.

SNAT is pleading with the court to direct government to provide its members with a safe and healthy workplace, with appropriate safety conditions as per the dictates of the Act, by ensuring that all workplaces at every school were sanitised.

The association also wants the State to be interdicted from subjecting its members to any changes of the terms and conditions of employment as per the directive of the principal secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training.

“The respondents should be interdicted from declaring that the non-attendance by members of the applicant to their respective workplaces is a violation of the terms and conditions of employment,” reads one of the prayers. It wants the court to declare that, until there has been compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act, all schools in the Kingdom of Eswatini are not safe places to work in.  In the event government fails to comply, SNAT wants the court to order it to suspend the opening of all schools until it has complied.

Alternatively, the association is praying for an order, that pending compliance, government should be ordered to provide training to its members on long distance teaching, via available technology, for the purpose of teaching the learners remotely and to provide the learners with adequate equipment and devices to learn remotely.


SNAT lawyer, Lucky Howe, contended that the application was urgent in that the teachers had been directed by government to proceed to open high schools in Eswatini.
“The matter is urgent and I am of the considered view that it is because of the danger to the applicant and the students which is imminent. From the information and daily report by the PM, the rate of infection is climbing at an alarming rate thus exposing the teachers and the students,” argued the senior lawyer.
Giving a background of the matter, SNAT, through its President Mbongwa Dlamini, submitted that on or about March 17, 2020, the PM, as the head of the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, issued a notice in terms of which he declared a national disaster.

The said notice, according to the president, was per provisions of Section 26 of the Disaster Management Act of 2006 due to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak. According to Dlamini, the effect of the said notice and announcement by the PM was that members of the society of Eswatini were required, with immediate effect, to reduce movement and contact with others and maintain social distancing.

He submitted that this led to the issuance of the COVID-19 Regulations, Legal Notice 72 of 2020, dated March 27, 2020.
“The second respondent has made it mandatory that the members of the applicant must comply with the same at the workplace. The said legal notice dictated the new conditions for all the citizens and persons in Eswatini, which included steps to be taken by all to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the sanctions for not doing so.


“It further dictated a requirement of wearing face masks by all at all times and maintaining a social distance between persons,” submitted Dlamini.
He mentioned that the same notice, together with the regulations, dictated the type of masks to be worn under the second schedule and the use of hand sanitisers and the requirement to keep hands clean and washed with soap and water as often as possible.

It was, according to the president, added that the masks should be changed every six to eight hours and disposed of if they were non-reusable.
The president said an announcement was made by the second respondent on a number of occasions, further restricting the liberties on the citizens, whereby the mandatory wearing of masks was made and the police service was instructed to ensure that all persons in public should wear them (masks) at all times. The applicant said a further legal notice was issued in line with Legal Notice 24 of 2020 by the council chairman of the Swaziland Standards Authority, which listed the standards for masks and sanitisers to be used by members of the public in line with the government restrictions.

“It must be noted that the restrictions are without exception to anyone and must be complied with and remain in place to date,” highlighted the president.
He averred that the minister of Labour and Social Security issued guidelines on employment contingency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic under Legal Notice 22 of 2020, which applied to all employers and employees, organisations, federations and more importantly, the respondents.
The president said the notice in its purpose and objectives was clear that it was to provide for the standard measures in the workplace during the COVID-19 period and national emergency.

“The same notice under Section 3 (h), proceeds to provide that the safety and health of the workers in the workplace is paramount and those who will be exposed must be catered for by the employers. Section 5 (c), read with (d) of the regulations, stipulates that as such the applicants must be provided for with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), they require to perform their duties and must not be exposed to hazardous and unsafe working conditions,” Dlamini stated.

He submitted that the PM made several statements and announcements in relation to the coronavirus, where he outlined the limitations and relaxation of the measures to be practises by the nation.


The statements, according to Dlamini, were taken from the Eswatini Government website and have not been subsequently changed or altered. He said on March 17, 2020, the PM made an announcement to the effect that all citizens must observe social distancing and limitations on numbers of citizens in gatherings to not more than 50 and that all citizens were to keep a distance of one metre away from each other.

On March 24, 2020, the president submitted, the respondent further announced a lockdown throughout the country, which directed that all employers must maintain a maximum density of one person per square metre at the workplace at all times.
The public, according to the president’s affidavit, was further directed to maintain not more than 20 persons in public spaces and the directive remains in place and applies to the applicants’ workplace.

Dlamini submitted that on March 27, 2020, the PM changed the social distance rules from one metre to two and that on April 22, 2020, a further announcement was made directing members of the public to wear face masks or cloth coverings.

The State, through Assistant Attorney General Mbuso Simelane, is opposing the application and will file its detailed papers today.
The matter will be heard today.

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