News / Africa

Malawi Rastafarians Push for Dreadlocks in Schools

Rastafarians march to protest a ban on dreadlocks in primary schools, Lilongwe, Malawi. (Lameck Masina for VOA)
Rastafarians march to protest a ban on dreadlocks in primary schools, Lilongwe, Malawi. (Lameck Masina for VOA)
Lameck Masina
Rastafarians in Malawi are intensifying their push for the government to lift its ban on students attending school wearing dreadlocks.  They argue it is unconstitutional to deny their children an education because of their religious practice, which calls for wearing their hair in that style.

Despite an absence of legislation on hair length or its appearance in Malawi, Rastafarians in this southern African country have long been banned from wearing dreadlocks in public primary schools.  They are usually told to remove the locks or risk being denied entry.   

But the president of the Rastafari for Unity, Ras Judah I, said dreadlocks are a component of their religion.  He says the ban violates the students' right to education and freedom of worship - which are both enshrined in Malawi's constitution.

This month, the Rastafarian community again asked Malawi's government consider lifting its ban.  Ras Judah said they presented a petition last Wednesday after a street march towards the District Commissioners Office in the capital Lilongwe.

“At the moment we are waiting for from the government to respond.  If we cannot have any response we will follow up our petition to the office of president and cabinet, then after getting feedback from the government side, is when we will decide on next action to be sought,” said Juda.

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 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.

Kanyongolo said that policy does not trump constitutional rights.

“If it is against their policy, then the policy should be modernized to be in line with the constitution because the constitution itself is the supreme law of the land and therefore you cannot use a policy to defend yourself against the constitution,” he said.

Government spokesperson Moses Kunkuyu says that the government would consider the Rastafarians’ demand only if they are in line with issues of policies and regulations regarding discipline and conduct of children in public schools.  He did not elaborate.

The spokesman did not rule out the need to match education policies with the constitution, but he said doing so is a process which would take time.  

Rastafarians have won similar legal battles in other countries.
For example, in 2009 a group of Rastafarian security officers in New York City won the right to wear their locks in neat ponytails, rather than be forced to tuck them in their uniform caps.

In April of this year, a Rastafarian pupil in South Africa who was ordered to stay away from school until he cut his dreadlocks, was allowed to return following the intervention of a rights group, Equal Education.

This gives Judah hope that sooner or later, Malawian Rastas will win the battle.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Marc from: Oregon
September 18, 2013 11:25 PM
My lord. I bet next they'll be telling us what we can and can't put into our bodies. Oh, wait...

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video In Cambodian Capital, Political Motives Seen Behind Canceled Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs