Students protest at Swaziland festival
Mbabane – Students in Swaziland protesting against the closure of their university threatened to derail a traditional festival on Wednesday, leading to seven arrests.
The demonstrators tried to breach a police cordon in Ezulwini at the start of the annual Umhlanga or Reed Dance, when thousands of women gather to perform before King Mswati III, a journalist witnessed.
“Why is there no money for education when there is money to hold the Umhlanga,” demanded protesters who were quickly surrounded by dozens of anti-riot police.
Police briefly detained seven protesters to stop them getting close to the area where the women were gathering, said Sibusiso Nhlabatsi, vice president of the University of Swaziland’s Student Representative Council.
The university was shut earlier this month amid the country’s financial crisis and students fear they will not be prepared for exams in November unless classes resume in the new academic year.
The Umhlanga, the most important event on the Swazi traditional calendar, sees 60 000 unmarried Swazi women make their way through the Ezulwini Valley during a week of ceremonial activities culminating with a mass dance in front of the king.
The girls are fed and housed by the monarch in the five days leading up to the spectacle, after which he traditionally selects a bride.
Mswati, reportedly one of the world’s richest monarchs, is often blamed for Swaziland’s economic woes, spending money on luxury cars and palaces for his 13 wives.
The small, landlocked kingdom has been hard hit by cuts in revenues from a regional customs union, the government’s main source of income.