A Malawi high court has ordered all education authorities to admit learners with dreadlocks in public schools countrywide.
Sitting in the eastern city of Zamba, the court was ruling on a petition filed by two Rastafarian children who were denied admission to public schools in 2016 and 2010.
The two learners have, however, been attending school after they obtained a court injunction.
For years, talks between the Rastafarian community in Malawi and the nation’s attorney general to settle the matter have flopped resulting in a prolonged legal suit, whose determination was made on Monday.
Judge Zione Ntaba ruled that barring children with dreadlocks from attending school was a breach of their right to education.
“The Ministry of Education should issue a statement to allow all children of the Rastafarian community with dreadlocks to be allowed in class. The circular should be done by 30th June,” Justice Ntaba ordered.
The case was filed by three human rights organizations on behalf of the Rastafarian community in the country.
In a similar case years ago, Rastafarian Feniya Mbewe was upset when the Blantyre Girls Primary School refused to enroll her daughter, Makeda Mbewe, because of her hair.
According to the school, the girl’s dreadlocks were against a policy requiring students to have their hair shortly trimmed.
Following this, Mbewe took the school to court and won.
Malawi’s High Court in January 2020 ordered all public schools to allow students with dreadlocks but the orders was seemingly not fully adhered to.
“We are very much excited because in this battle, we were not fighting for Makeda alone but all other children who are turned back from school,” Mbewe said. “The problem was widespread.”
The Malawi High Court also ordered the school to give daughter Makeda extra classes to make up for those she missed.
Rastafarianism is an Abrahamic religion from Jamaica that stresses living what they regard as naturally, including their hair.
“In our religion, they say every Rasta has to keep dreadlocks,” said Jerefaya Mphomeya, chairman for Rastafarians in southern Malawi.
Malawi’s Rastafarians have long been sidelined by education policy requiring students to cut their hair to promote uniformity in school.
Some Rastafarian parents choose private schools, while others give in and cut their children’s dreadlocks.
“When I took my children to a public school, they refused to enroll them until they cut their dreadlocks,” said mother Debora Habakuku. “I tried to find an alternative, but I failed. So instead, I trimmed their hair so that they should get an education.”
The latest High Court ruling now means that Rastafarian parents will no longer have to choose between their religious practice or sending their children to public school.