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Swaziland: Free Primary Education Declared Inviolable Constitutional Right

(Apr. 8, 2009) It was reported on March 25, 2009, that the Swaziland High Court upheld a suit brought by a labor support group, Swaziland National Ex-Miners Workers Union (SNEWA), in response to King Mswati III's February 2009 parliamentary address in which he stated that free education was not a feasible undertaking. The suit was initiated to compel the government to honor its constitutional duty to provide free primary education. Judge Mabel Agyemang held, “I make a declaration that every Swazi child of whatever grade attending primary school is entitled to education free of charge, at no cost and no requirement of any contribution of any such child regarding tuition, supply of textbooks and all inputs that ensure access to education.” (Judge Rules for Free Education, IRIN, Mar. 25, 2009, available at

To the argument by government lawyers that free education was already made available by the government in the form of government-purchased textbooks and the payment of tuition fees for orphans and vulnerable children, the judge responded that the language in the Constitution was clear enough and therefore did not warrant interpretation. She noted, “[i]t seems to me that the respondents are seeking to have the court give the words 'free education' an interpretation which will only do violence to the language, will at best be artificial and in reality be absurd.” (Id.)

The Swaziland Constitution states that “every Swazi child shall within three years of the commencement of this Constitution have the right to free education in public schools at least up to the end of primary school, beginning with the first grade.” (The Swaziland Constitution of 2005, §29(6).)