It is no secret that Swaziland is running out of money – not even to the Swazi people. With their government waiting to see if the IMF will bail Swaziland out, it is in these cash strapped circumstances that Swazi children are attempting to go back to school. Tuesday, the day classes are meant to start, is also the start of a planned public transport strike.
For the kingdom’s millions of so-called “orphaned and vulnerable children” (or OVCs for the acronym-inclined) it is a particularly difficult time. They are meant to have a special dispensation from governement allowing them to be schooled for free only, this year, principals say they will turn them away from school as they haven’t yet received the fees for these kids. Even for the lucky kids who have both parents, and the even luckier ones whose parents have jobs, it is not easy.
Take Nosipho * for instance. Her father helps out in our gardens on Saturday. What we give him for piecemeal work supplements what I imagine is a very meagre gardener’s salary. After Christmas he came to me for help because his wife had been bitten by a black mamba and needed treatment (one of the hazards of daily life). This time he came to me because he can’t afford school fees. Surely this man can afford to school his own daughter I thought. Then I looked at the paperwork shyly proffered. A deposit of what must be equivalent to his monthly wage was needed just to ensure her place in the high school. And, like I said, she is one of the lucky ones.
One of the not so lucky ones, (if fate had not given him a sponsor) was sitting across from me at a table at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Using hand gestures (he is deaf) I was trying to understand what he would be needing for school and how much it would all cost. Looking into his open, joyful face, I wondered what life could possibly have in store for this handicapped, parent-less child. At least, this year, his school fees are paid and he has shoes. As I was leaving I filled in 2 entries for KFC’s competition: win school fees for your child. While in other countries it might have been a competition to win a car or an iPhone, in Swaziland school fees are where it is at. The box was full. I could hardly fit mine in.
*not her real name