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10 SCHOOLS PROTEST IN 1 DAY, HEAD TEACHERS WORRIED

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NHLANGANO – Missing classes for a long period of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic seems not to have propelled some pupils to make up for the lost time.

This is because in just one day, 10 schools, mainly in the Shiselweni and Lubombo regions, engaged in protests, with the main agenda being the call for the release of incarcerated Members of Parliament (MPs), Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza of Hosea and Mthandeni Dube of Ngwempisi. In the Shiselweni Region, classes were disturbed yesterday in eight schools as the pupils engaged in protests. It was established that the protests started during morning assembly at Hosea High School. The pupils were told to sing a song but instead, they started blowing whistles and sang political songs. It was said that the teachers tried to bring them to order but they ended up retreating to the staff room as the pupils became violent towards them. While this drama unfolded, Hosea Primary pupils were watching just before their assembly time.

Refused

Soon after their morning assembly ended, the primary school pupils refused to go to their classrooms as some started banging desks and others threw stones on the roof of the school. They then joined the high school group and headed towards Ngozi High School. It was established that by the time they got there, the pupils from Ngozi had also started protesting and they headed towards Jericho Primary and High schools. As they were making their way to Jericho, police are said to have tried to disperse them with tear gas. Worth noting is that there were also Grade I pupils who were running along the sides as the pupils were protesting. According to a witness, it is said that some of the pupils had to be attended to and were given water as they were having difficulties breathing due to the tear gas.

It is said that both Jericho Primary and High school pupils were also protesting and they met their colleagues from the other schools along the way and formed a huge group. The five schools were also joined by Ngololweni High School, making a total of six schools. It was established, however, that Ngololweni pupils had other grievances, which included that they were disturbed by livestock grazing in the school’s premises while learning because it was not fenced. They further said they wanted Wi-Fi connection, they did not want to find teachers at the library and at the computer lab. Other grievances were that they did not want to eat beans that did not have vegetables and that they wanted Buhlalu Rice, not ‘mshamndane’. They further said they wanted new electrical plugs fitted as they suffered electric shocks when using the ones at the school currently.

They also needed an explanation on where the chickens they were growing as part of their Agriculture project went to while alleging they were eaten by the teachers. The pupils said they wanted online learning and that they did not want to pay E50 registration fee each year as they were returning to the school. They said, they wanted all these grievances sorted out in two days. Meanwhile, Ngudzeni and Velebantfu High pupils were also separately protesting yesterday. Ngudzeni pupils were said to be protesting against a E30 fee that they were made to pay monthly for guards who guarded the school while Velebantfu pupils also wanted the pro-change MPs released. Yesterday’s protest happened despite a meeting that was held at Hosea over the past weekend where the pupils were told to stop protesting and concentrate on their studies. They were told that they would only join the protests on weekends or when they had completed school. According to the pupils, they were protesting as per Siphofaneni MP Mduduzi ‘Gawuzela’ Simelane’s advice on Monday, during a ‘family meeting’ on the Swaziland News online platform. They said as Simelane said in due time there would be a day in a week which would be solely for protesting.

Protests

Worth noting is that the protests happen at a time when the external examinations timetables have been released. Examinations will start as early as October 11, 2021, according to the timetables from the Examinations Council of Eswatini. The pupils, when asked if they would be ready to write their examinations, said they would not sit for examinations as long as the MPs were still in custody. When some of the head teachers were called for a comment, they said they were worried about losing the little time they had left as the pupils were protesting. Ngozi Primary Head teacher Daphne Xaba said yesterday when the pupils started protesting, she had to tell them to go inside her office and retrieve the MPs they were protesting for because the manner in which they acted, it was as if they were the ones keeping the MPs. “It is frustrating,” she said. Meanwhile, at Nkhanini High School, the pupils also embarked on a protest, calling for the release of the incarcerated MPs. According to one of the pupils who was called to shed light on what transpired during the protest, he claimed that Form I pupils were the ones who started the protest after complaining that they were attending classes on a daily basis due to a shortage of staff.

The school is situated at Ncandweni community, which is under the Nkilongo Inkhundla. The pupil alleged that it was around 7:30am while they had assembled for their routine morning prayer when some pupils, the majority being in Form I, went to deliver firewood used for cooking at the school. He claimed that upon delivering the firewood, the pupils joined them at assembly, chanting political songs that resulted in the rest of the pupils joining in. The pupil claimed that the incident took place in the presence of the school’s Head teacher, Khumbulani Ndwandwe, with another teacher. The pupil alleged that they then went out of the school gate to mobilise learners at their sister school, Nkhanini Primary, who also joined them. The learner claimed that they resorted to mobilising their counterparts at Big Bend High, which is situated 2.5km away. The pupil asserted that they were stopped by police at around 9am before reaching the school and were told to go to their respective homes.

“A white police vehicle with police officers armed with guns and tear gas canisters stopped us before reaching Big Bend High. They told us that what we are doing was wrong and we should go back to our respective homes. However, we continued with our journey while still singing. The police van sped off to our school. Another vehicle with police officers came and they fired tear gas canisters. We ran in different directions and some were taken by the police,” alleged the pupil.

Comment

The school’s Head teacher, Ndwandwe, could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone was switched off. Lubombo Regional Education Officer (REO) Richard Dlamini said Ndwandwe alerted him about the incident that unfolded at the school.
Dlamini said police were called to calm the situation as the pupils had mobilised those in primary and were on their way to disturb lessons at Big Bend High when they (police) stopped them. “We pray that the situation normalises. I first learnt about the matter through social media and I called the head teacher about it. I was told that the pupils wanted the release of the arrested MPs,” the REO said.

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