Swaziland
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IS IT TIME TO CELEBRATE?

It is every parent’s dream to see their children grow up to be responsible and independent citizens.

Only when the children become independent do parents sit and bask in the glory of having done a great job raising their sons and daughters. Once in a while, one’s children will seek one’s advice on various issues but in the main, the children will be able to start their own families, build their own homes, advance their careers and even travel the world, without the involvement of their parents. This is what independence entails.

The Kingdom of Eswatini gained independence from the British on September 6, 1968. Four months from now, the country will mark 55 years of independence from colonial rule.
Like a parent who has raised a child, can emaSwati look back at the last 55 years with joy and satisfaction? The short answer is yes and no. It would be folly and disingenuous of anyone to claim that the kingdom has not made strides in various aspects of its existence. There has been tremendous and noticeable progress on many fronts. Those of us who have hosted friends from other countries right here in Eswatini will attest to the fact that our road network leaves many a visitor impressed. There has been great improvement in the regard, with many urban roads improved from single-lane highways to double carriageways.

The Ngwenya-Sikhuphe road is a classic example. In fact, it should be the pride of any patriotic liSwati. There is also a wide network of peri-urban roads that have been improved by using the sometimes controversial probase method. Some of these roads lead to rural areas. Make no mistake…I am very much alive to the fact that generally, emaSwati are unhappy with the state of the roads in their various areas. During the recent January/February heavy rains, there were complaints from various communities when they found that once again, they would not be able to access certain places because the roads were impassable. These are dirt roads that have remained unattended to for years. In one instance, we saw a picture of commuters riding on the luggage carrier on top of a bus, risking their lives in the process. That was the only available bus at the time because others were unable to navigate the muddy road.

Even drivers of private vehicles were unable to reach certain places they would have loved to visit, for work or personal reasons. Nobody can blame residents from these communities for having no reason to celebrate the kingdom’s independence. In any case, we have also seen huge advancement in terms of other infrastructure. All our towns and cities look completely different from what they were in 1968. Improvements can be seen on both private businesses like shops and offices and government structures. It is also ironic that the ambitious programme by government to bring health facilities closer to the people has made great strides. The irony is that, while government clinics are now littered across the country, they are not fully stocked up in terms of medication.

medical

This lack of medical drugs affects practically every public health facility in the kingdom. For decades, government has acknowledged this challenge but failed to address it. Speaking of which, it is a good thing that one of the areas where drugs bought with taxpayers’ money disappear has been identified. This is the Central Medical Stores, where we learned a week ago that 11 officers had been suspended. This is a move in the right direction. Suspension does not mean the affected workers are guilty – not until they are brought before a disciplinary hearing or their matters heard in court. However, this development suggests that there is now commitment to root out corruption, at least within this government department. This can never be the only aspect of the medical drug supply chain that needed to be looked into. Over the years, government has proffered challenges in the procurement process as an excuse for drug stock-outs. At times, the nation was told that suppliers could not honour orders because they were still owed for previous supplies.

In democratic countries, especially in the West, leaders lose elections if they fail to improve the health system or if, while campaigning, their national health system ideas leave a lot to be desired. In a country that was, just a couple of years ago, destined for First World status, the health system should have advanced to a level where we would be the envy of neighbouring countries. After all, 55 years is too long a time to have not corrected any mistakes that may have been identified. That said, while we appreciate the setting up of various foreign direct investment (FDI) initiatives, the unemployment rate in Eswatini is still cause for serious concern. This rate stands at a worrying 26 per cent of all eligible workers in the country. This is shameful when one takes into account that most developed countries in the First World have single digit percentage rates of unemployment.

The education sector is also a mess. There is not much to celebrate there, as education is still unaffordable to many emaSwati. Many pupils who passed Grade VII just last year alone, are sitting at home because their parents do not have money to pay for secondary education. Hundreds of qualified teachers are unemployed while schools are understaffed, resulting in them delivering poor quality education. Minister of Home Affairs Princess Lindiwe, has announced government’s decision to host major national celebrations on September 6, 2023. These will be double celebrations marking His Majesty the King’s 55th birthday and the same number of years since the country became independent.

With many emaSwati still mourning the deaths of their relatives and the burning of their properties at the height of the socio-political instability, many are wondering if we have reached a point where we can take out our dancing shoes. Is the five-month lull in political violence enough for us to say we have crossed the Jordan? Well, it could be if the issues that divided this nation had already been addressed and compromises reached.