Hundreds of principals in Swaziland marched Tuesday, the first day of the school term, to protest the impact on education of the southern African monarchy's budget crisis.
Education officials said most of Swaziland's 328 primary, secondary and high schools opened as scheduled Tuesday. That had been in doubt for the nation's more than 800,000 public school pupils after principals complained budget cuts left them unable to pay secretaries or buy chalk and other supplies. Principals said some schools have no water because they can't pay utility bills.
After their peaceful march Tuesday to the education ministry, principals handed over a petition calling on the government to reverse cuts of 95 million emalangeni (about $13.5 million), nearly half the education budget for the 2011-2012 school year. Much of the missing money was earmarked for school fees and supplies for orphans and other vulnerable children in a country where many children have lost parents to AIDS.
Swaziland is several months into a financial crisis, blamed on corruption and declining customs revenue. The government has proposed freezing civil servant salaries and have already cut other costs, including allowances for university students.
The cuts have led to a series of protests, with some Swazis saying the king should rein in the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by his family, which includes 13 wives. Pro-democracy activists have tried to exploit popular anger over the budget crisis, but many Swazis remain attached to the idea of a monarchy, if not to the current monarch.
King Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa, has ruled this nation of about 1.2 million since 1986.
Neighboring South Africa last month agreed to give Swaziland a 2.4 billion rand ($354 million) loan contingent on economic and political reform. South Africa has yet to begin paying out the money.
Last week, Prince Mahlaba, an adviser to Mswati, was quoted in local media complaining about what he called an attempt by South Africa to dictate political reform in Swaziland.