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About 1,200 Rastafarian children in Malawi are anticipated to return to state schools over the next month after being banned for a decade due to their hair.
After a landmark decision at the high court in March, letters have been sent out to about 7,000 schools telling headteachers that the exclusion of children with dreadlocks from the classroom has been ruled as unconstitutional.
The high court judge, Zione Ntaba, who presided over a long-running judicial review of government policy in Malawi’s former capital, Zomba, ordered the education ministry to inform state schools that they are required to admit Rastafarian children by 30 June.
In Malawi, primary school is provided free of charge but enrollment had previously required all children to cut their hair
The ruling was a vindication for Ali Mcroy Nansolo, who lives beneath a mountain peak called the “Emperor’s View” in honor of a visit by former Ethiopian ruler Haile Selassie.
Like other Rastafarians, Nansolo cites Selassie’s royal bloodline as a descendent from the biblical King Solomon, sent by God to liberate Black Africans from colonialism.
Despite Rastafarianism’s love for Africa, it has not always been treated kindly by the motherland’s governments.
Rastas have faced persecution, even in their revered Ethiopia, and their use of marijuana has been used as a pretext to arrest them.
Within Malawi’s small Rastafarian minority, an estimated 15,000 people follow Rastafarianism as a religion and thousands more have adopted it as a way of life, or what Mkandawire calls “livity”.
As such, their hair has sacred symbolism, as referenced in several passages in the Old Testament, and cutting it or using “a razor” on it is anathema to Rastafarians.
George, 30, runs a stall in Lilongwe, selling handmade caps, ginger plants and fruit. She could not afford to send her three children to private school, and so felt forced to cut their hair, saying, “I had no choice but to cut their dreadlocks, a thing which was not easy at all. It was painful seeing my own children being deviated from Jah’s teachings. Cutting hair means disobeying God’s commandments, according to our religious beliefs.”
Rastafarians in Malawi to seek compensation for a decade of lost education
Rastafarians had complained of discrimination after being left out of an agreement in June 2021. At the time a Malawian civil society organization, the Public Affairs Committee, encouraged Muslims and Christians to sign a memorandum of understanding which, among other things, allowed Muslim students to wear a hijab or headscarf to school.
The court ruling has now prompted many in the Rastafarian community to request compensation from the government for their children’s exclusion from school, saying their rights were violated by the “archaic policy” that had classed dreadlocks as “unhygienic” and that their children had suffered as a result.
Mkandawire said their campaigning for the government to address the damage caused by the ban would continue, calling for the establishment of special vocational schemes and loans to help the young people who missed out on education, according to The Guardian.
Patrick Galawanda, an education coordinator and Rastafarian community leader who was among the group who took the case to the high court, said the resolution was long overdue and that he was delighted to see “this battle” coming to an end.