Rastafarians in Malawi are intensifying their push for the government to lift its ban on students attending school wearing dreadlocks as they staged protests on Wednesday at the Civic Office in Blantyre City on the disguised state’s denial of the rastas `freedom of worship’.
The much-maligned sect also wants the Head of State to extend presidential appointments to members of Rastafari community who may be equally competent and qualified for such positions.
The Rastafarians want their children to be allowed to attend public schools in dreadlocks, arguing that it is unconstitutional to deny their children an education because of their religious practice, which calls for wearing their hair in that style.
They Rasts said dreadlocks were a fundamental tenet of Rastafarian beliefs and therefore should be exempt from the policy.
Rastafarian community argue that the prohibition of dreadlocked children in public schools violates the children’s right to education as well as their freedom of worship – which are both enshrined in Malawi’s constitution.
They presented a petition after a street march asking government to revisit the education policy to ensure that Rastafarian children are given equal access to education.
“Rastafarians pay taxes just as anybody else and out children should not be denied public education to which we contribute substantially,” the Rastas said.
They have suggested that the ministry of education can put in place measures to ensure that the children look presentable in their dreadlocks.
The Rastafarians have been trying to get the unofficial ban on dreadlocks lifted for a decade, to no avail.
The closest they came was in 2011 when late president Bingu wa Mutharika verbally instructed teachers to start allowing dreadlocked Rastafarian children in schools. But following his death in 2012, the instructions did not get implemented.
The Rastas’ push has gained support from some legal experts.
Edge Kanyongolo, a constitutional lawyer who lectures at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi, says although rights can have limits, he sees no reason to ban wearing of dreadlocks.
“Our constitution guarantees various rights including the right to freedom of religion as well as a right to equal treatment. Now the only time you can limit those rights is if somehow the exercise of the rights harm the rights of others. In the case of Rastafarian children, I cannot see how allowing them to keep hair in dreadlocks harms anyone at all,” he said.
Ministry of Education authorities have argued that refusing dreadlocked children into classes is in line with education policy which aims to encourage uniformity among students.
Another controversial issue the Rastas want is to freely use cannabis.
The Rastafarians argue that smoking the drug locally knowns as ‘chamba’ is part of their religious doctrine which must be respected and upheld.
But Cannabis is illegal in Malawi and police are sparing no one, Rasta or non-Rasta, in their crackdown on suspects.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :