August 8, 2011

University closed, salaries cut despite South African loan

Swaziland’s cash-strapped university failed to re-open for the new academic year, officials said, adding it would remain closed indefinitely. “The registration process is suspended, and the commencement of the first semester lectures is postponed … to a date yet to be determined,” University of Swaziland registrar Sipho Vilakati said in a statement. The leader of the student representative council Pasika Dlamini said most students did not show up for classes after the announcement. “We were told that the university won’t be opened on Monday, because there is no money,” said Dlamini. The government this year only offered to sponsor around 300 students, down from 1200 in previous years.

Furthermore, Swaziland’s government will go ahead with planned salary cuts of civil servants despite receiving a $355-million bailout loan from South Africa, a document obtained by Agence France-Presse revealed. The document which details salary cuts as part of the government austerity measures to trim down the country’s bloated wage bill was tabled in parliament on Thursday and distributed to unions for their consideration. All servants will be affected including the police and prison warders which were previously excluded from the cuts — only the army is exempted from the move. “The lowest paid government employees will have their salaries cut by 2.5% while the highest paid will have their salaries slashed by 10%,” according to the salary conversion table proposal document.

Last week hundreds of union members took to the streets in cities and towns around Swaziland to protest against government moves to cut civil servants’ salaries amid a deepening financial crisis. A similar move in April resulted in mass protests being violently put down by security forces.

“The category classified as RSP2 (Royal Swaziland Police) has 3 278 officers and it runs up to 10 notches. Under RSP2, government intends saving about 1.1-million lilangeni per month and these are just junior police officers and that will add up to 12.6-million lilangeni per annum,” read the document. However after police were informed they were also going to be affected by the salary cuts they have threatened to revive a union and go on strike. “We are currently having meetings all over the country to recruit people … I cannot rule out a boycott of work or an outright strike. This is serious to us. If they cut our salaries how will we survive. I can assure you, we will no longer be used by government to beat up unionists and harass them and get salary cuts as appreciation,” a police officer — who asked to be identified only as Dlamini — said. A police union existed two years ago but a court dissolved it instead police association was formed.
Swaziland has been on a brink of economic collapse after a 60% drop last year in revenues from a regional customs union, its main source of income. The country’s has been given a R2.4-billion ($355-million) loan by South Africa which requires Mswati to open “dialogue” on political reforms in the tiny landlocked kingdom. However, Swazi activists criticised the bail out, saying the deal offers no guarantees that the king will follow through on democratic reforms. (Mail & Guardian)

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