Swaziland’s government could be on a collision course with King Mswati III over the sacking of striking teachers.
King Mswati pronounced last week that a national teachers’ pay strike that has crippled schools for more than five weeks should end; that teachers should go back to work and the government should enter into talks to end the dispute.
In Swaziland, where King Mswati is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, his word is law. When he pronounces on something there is no further discussion, people are expected to just do as they are told.
The teachers union, SNAT, immediately told its members to go back to work and classes resumed on Monday (13 August 2012).
But, Education Secretary Wilson Ntshangase said that teachers who had been sacked by the government for striking would not be allowed to go back to work.
Traditional authorities, led by Timothy Velabo Mtetwa, who is known as the ‘traditional Prime Minister’, and who is said to speak for the king, rebuked the minister, and said no individual had the right to overturn anything promulgated by the king.
Mtetwa, told local media, ‘We cannot afford to have a Kingdom where citizens will act against the orders of the authorities.’
It was earlier suggested that Ntshangase might be brought before a traditional court where he could face a fine.
Then, Swazi Attorney General Majahenkhaba Dlamini said only Cabinet had the authority to reinstate the teachers.
Yesterday, the Cabinet met and confirmed the sacked teachers would not be allowed back to work. This was despite an Industrial Court ruling earlier this month that the teachers were fired illegally.
The Swazi Government is saying it listened to a recording of the king’s speech in which he told the teachers to go back to work and cannot find where he said the dismissed teachers could have their jobs back.
King Mswati is presently on an official trip to Sri Lanka and cannot be asked to confirm his position.
The government ministers, all appointed by the king, are taking a risk in second-guessing what the king really meant. It may all be semantics, because what is clear is that the king wanted the teachers’ dispute ended now. By not reinstating the sacked teachers, the government has gone against the king’s wishes.
GOVT BECOMING ISOLATED FROM KING
Swaziland’s Queen Mother the Indovukazi has turned up the heat in a dispute between King Mswati III and his government over sacked teachers.
Last week, during a ‘people’s parliament’ session, the King, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, ordered teachers who had been on strike for more than five weeks to return to work. He also told his government to talk to the teachers and solve the dispute over pay.
The teachers did as they were told, but, the Swazi Cabinet refused to reinstate more than 200 teachers who had been sacked for striking. The Minister of Education Wilson Ntshangase said the king had not meant that sacked teachers could have their jobs back.
This caused a crisis in the kingdom where nobody is allowed to dispute the king’s rulings and it put the government on a collision course with the monarch.
Now, the Indovukazi is reported in the Times of Swaziland saying that the king did mean the striking teachers should have their jobs back.
The Indovukazi, who is considered by many observers to be the real power behind King Mswati’s throne, met a delegation from the teachers’ union, SNAT.
Timothy Mtetwa, the traditional Prime Minister, who speaks for the king, was at the meeting.
He later told the Times that the Indlovukazi said all teachers should return to class in accordance with the king’s order.
‘His Majesty said during Sibaya that all teachers, including the fired ones, should return to work. This is what the Queen Mother said she heard the king pronouncing during the People’s Parliament,’ Mtetwa said.
The President of SNAT, Sibongile Mazibuko, who was also at the meeting told the newspaper, ‘The Queen Mother cordially welcomed us. We were overwhelmed. We then reported to her that we were shocked that there were people who were ignoring His Majesty’s call that all teachers should return to work to end the impasse in schools.’
She added, ‘The Queen Mother was equally shocked that there were people defying the King’s pronouncement. Her Majesty said she did not know where those people were getting that mandate from. She promised she would warn those people to stop expelling teachers.’
Earlier in the week it was reported that Ntshangase could face a fine from a traditional court for defying the king courtesy: SWAZIMEDIA COMMENTARY