Swaziland’s Ministry of Education has been criticized for promoting religious intolerance with a new government order that bans the teaching and study of all religions except Christianity.
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Schools in Swaziland opened for a new academic year on Tuesday under a government order to teach only Christianity, with the Education Ministry instructing all head teachers to ensure that the syllabus would not mention any religion other than Christianity, including Islam and Judaism, AFP reports.
Ministry officials say old text books would be withdrawn and replaced with new ones mentioning only the Bible and schools would also be required to submit a list of qualified religious studies for teachers ahead of the new academic year.
Pat Muir, a ministry spokesman, said, “Other religions will not be offered at primary and high school level. At tertiary level, they will be able to make a decision to learn about other religions.”
Muir maintained that the new policy was put in place to protect the young minds of pupils from conflicting religious ideologies.
Opponents of the action, however, criticized it and said it is capable of fueling religious intolerance toward other religions, especially Muslims. They also said that it is an attempt to deny citizens their basic right to religious freedom as stated in the country’s Constitution.
Sahid Matsebula, a Swazi-born Muslim who works for a mosque near the capital Mbabane, said the government’s policy could worsen religious friction in the tiny kingdom, which holds the distinction as the only recognized absolute monarchy in sub-Saharan Africa.
“What plan does the government have in place for our children who are not Christian? They will be taught one thing at home and taught something else at school,” Matsebula said.
Meanwhile, a number of prominent church leaders in Swaziland have welcomed the new policy. Stephen Masilela, the president of the Swaziland Conference of Churches, lauded the decision, saying, “Christianity is the bedrock religion on which this country was built.”
Christianity is the predominant religion in Swaziland, although many Swazis combine Christianity with indigenous religious beliefs. The southern African country also has a substantial Muslim population, though, with many of them being immigrants from Asia and the Middle East. Estimates put the number of Swaziland’s Muslims at between 2 to 10 percent of the total population.
This new education policy is coming in the wake of recent public complaints over the increase of Asian migrants in the country, which led Parliament to set up a commission of inquiry last year with the consequent deportation of some illegal migrants.
Jabulani Mabuza, minister of Commerce and Trade, also told Parliament that a law making it harder for foreigners to set up businesses in the country was already in the works.
Swaziland is a small nation with a population of about 1.2 million. The kingdom nation remains largely underdeveloped and has one of the least performing economies in southern Africa. Its ruler, King Mswati III, has been criticized repeatedly for his profligate lifestyle as well as leading a government that stifles dissent, jails its opponents, and denies workers their basic rights.