September 7, 2011

South African trade unionist arrested in protest clashes / Schools closed

Swazi police fired teargas and rubber bullets to break up a pro-democracy march, arresting a top South African union leader who was going to address the crowd, a protest organiser said. Zingiswa Losi, deputy president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, was among three people arrested in the southern Swazi town of Sitheki, said Sibongile Mazibuko, head of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers. Police declined to comment on the arrests.

Cosatu has vocally supported the protests in Swaziland, and criticised South Africa’s move to grant a R2.4-billion bail-out to the kingdom. In Swaziland’s main city Manzini, about 1 000 protesters took to the streets for a second day, but were blocked by police from marching to the city centre, where protest leaders wanted to make speeches.

In the meantime, school principals in Swaziland shut down many of the nation’s schools on the first day of the new term, demanding that the government pay outstanding fees meant to ensure free public education. “The situation is bleak, very bleak. Without the money we cannot run the schools,” said Charles Bennett, the head of the Swaziland Principals’ Association. He also noted that government had threatened to take action against principals who refuse to open schools. Some schools in the capital Mbabane did open their doors. “We don’t have the money but we have been instructed by government to open the school. We could not keep the children outside,” said Hopson Dule, principal of Woodlands High School.

Dule said 40 percent of his pupils were orphans, and without fees for them, he could not afford to run his school. “The school will eventually close itself,” Dule told reporters. (Mail & Guardian / Pretoria News)

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