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Govt loses free education case

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MBABANE- Government’s articulation that parents must forget about free education this year has been overruled by the High Court.

Judge Mabel Agyemang yesterday broke new grounds and declared that every Swazi child of whatever grade attending primary school is entitled to education that is free of charge.

"I make a declaration that every Swazi child of whatever grade attending primary school is entitled to education free of charge, at no costs and not requiring any contribution from any such child regarding tuition, supply of textbooks, and all inputs that ensure access to education and that the said right accrued during the course of the period of three years following the coming into force of the constitution," judge Agyemang said to a quiet court gallery.

The judge further made a declaration that the free education should start within the three years as enshrined in the constitution.

The Swaziland National Ex-Miners Workers Association (SNEWA) had taken government to court where they wanted an order that would compel government to adhere to the constitutional provision of free education.


SNEWA had instructed human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to go to court and argue that government should make free education in public schools available for every Swazi child under the constitutional obligation imposed on the state in terms of Section 29 (6) read together with Section 60 (8) of the constitution. They also wanted government to make available an education policy in so far as implementation of the constitutional requirement under section 29 (6) read together with Section 60 (8) so as to determine their compliance with the constitutional obligation.

However, government lawyer Mndeni Vilakati averred government had complied with the provisions of the constitution as it was providing free education as defined in the context of Swaziland as set out in the constitution. He maintained that the term referred to ‘a consolidated programme aimed at creating an environment characterised by minimum barriers to quality primary education’ and asserted that this included the provision of stationery, textbooks, qualified teachers, accommodation for teachers such as classrooms and capitation grants.

However, judge Mabel Agyemang said she found no reason not to adhere to the golden rule of interpretation which is to interpret the word ‘free’ as used in connection with provision of goods and services and in its ordinary grammatical usage to mean that no charge.

"I reiterate that the context in which the word ‘free’ appears in S.29 (6) as an adjective to describe the word ‘education’, leaves no ambiguity in the reader. . . It seems to me that the respondents are seeking to have the court to give the words ‘free education’, an interpretation which in context, will only do violence to the language, will at best be artificial, and in reality, be absurd," judge Agyemang said in her ruling.

Government lawyers have said they would examine the judgement and then decide if they will appeal.

‘...it is a historic judgement’

MBABANE-President of the Swaziland National Ex Miners Workers Assoc-iation (SNEWA) Ndlavela Dlamini has described the judgement as historic.

Dlamini said they came to court merely as agents of the people of Swaziland and that this victory meant that the people of Swaziland could now enjoy the rights enshrined in the constitution.

"This is historic, but it is not exclusively a win for ex miners who challenged government but for all the people of Swaziland who were forced to pay school fees much against the spirit of the constitution," Dlamini said.

Dlamini also warned members of his association not to fall into the trap of discriminating some groups that may be in solidarity with them.

Lawyer Thulani Maseko, who was all smiles yesterday as he left the High Court flanked by jubilant ex miners, said he took off his hat for the judge. He said what he noted was that a single judge of the High Court was competent enough to trial constitutional matters without the need of a full bench. Maseko said they were hoping that government will respect this court order.

Govt must adhere to order—STFU 

MBABANE- Jan Sithole wants the lawyers to write a compelling declaration to government to implement the court ruling.He has pleaded with government to adhere to the court order for the sake of progress.

Sithole is the long serving Secretary General of the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU).

"We hope that government as the author of the constitution will protect and defend it. We also hope that it will abide by the decision of the court but our experience with this government, in light of the Macetjeni experience, is one of defying court orders.

"Our advice now would be to stop buying cabinet cars and pull its resources together. What should happen now is that the lawyers must write a compelling declaration to government to implement the court ruling," Sithole said.

Sithole emphasised that it would be advisable for government to halt buying cabinet cars and channel all its resources towards free education.

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