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Malawi High Court declares unconstitutional the banning of dreadlocks in government schools

On 8 May 2023, the High Court of Malawi delivered a judgment declaring that the unwritten or written policy of the Government requiring all learners, including children of the Rastafari community to cut their hair before admission into government schools is unlawful and constitutes a violation of the right to education, freedom of religion and amounts to discrimination on grounds of religious affiliation.

From the end of colonialism in Malawi and beyond, dreadlocks and hairs of the African people in general, have perpetually been regarded with disdain and simply seen as not beautiful and undesirable. This was due to dreadlocks being perceived as a sign of rebellion against slavery and subsequent colonial rule, with Europeans deeming African hair unattractive and not being considered human hair in the first place. The High Court of Malawi noted that despite this suppression of African identity, dreadlocks are however not new as far as African culture in general and the history of Malawi are concerned – dreadlocks are part and parcel of the Malawian and African heritage and the Government should take appropriate steps to promote such heritage.

The Court, therefore, ordered that in the spirit of tolerance and respect for unity in diversity, the policy be abolished immediately and that the Government of Malawi issue a circular to all government schools in the country by 30 June 2023 allowing all Rastafari children, with their, dreadlocks, to be enrolled in such schools.

The Applicants in the case were represented by Chikondi Chijozi of Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and the case is supported by the Women Lawyers Association of Malawi (WLA), the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), and the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA).

The Applicants, who are minors, were denied admission at Malindi Secondary School and Blantyre Girls Primary School. The two Applicants were refused admission into these government schools following their refusal to cut their dreadlocks and defiance of the policy by the Ministry of Education that requires all learners to cut their hair before admission into government schools. Following their refusal of admission into the schools, the Applicants applied for leave for judicial review challenging the lawfulness and constitutionality of the said policy.  On 14 January 2020, the Court granted an interim order of injunction compelling the schools to enroll and admit the Applicants and all Rastafari children pending the final determination of the matter.

The policy to require all learners in government schools to trim their hair seems to originate from the previously repealed Decency in Dress Act of 1974 and Section 180(g) of the Penal Code which regulated the way in which people of Malawi ought to dress and look and most importantly, prohibited people of Malawi from keeping long hair in a certain way that was not generally accepted as “well-kept” or “neat-looking”.

Rastafarians keep dreadlocks as a visible mark of their religion. Rastafarians grow their hair into dreadlocks because it is part of the Nazarite Vow. All Rastafarians take this vow and claim it is commanded by the Bible (Leviticus 21:5, “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard nor make any cuttings in their flesh”). Therefore, those from the Rastafari community who cut their hair are treated with contempt as they are perceived to have abandoned their faith and culture.

Justice Ntaba held that the requirement that dreadlocks should be cut before registration and enrollment in schools constituted an unreasonable and unjustifiable limitation on the rights of the Applicants and does not meet the requirements of section 44 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi. She further stated that the policy failed to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of Rastafari children to be protected from discrimination and treated equally under Section 20 of the Constitution. Justice Ntaba further stated, “Courts need to remain vigilant and be diligent in scrutinizing cases where human rights violations are alleged. Courts should be critical and not sanction or encourage illegality perpetrated by those public officers that violate the human rights of persons whom they are bound to protect”.

“This judgment will go a long way in showcasing the importance of democracy in Malawi and that at the heart of unfair discrimination lies a recognition that the purpose of Malawi’s Constitution is the establishment of human rights accorded to all human beings equally, in dignity and respect regardless of their membership of particular groups,” said Chikondi Chijozi, Criminal Justice Lawyer at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

The High Court in its judgment followed precedent from Courts in Kenya, South Africa and reiterated that “physical colonization ended and so must all other forms of colonization such as mental, social, cultural, and spiritual colonization which are in this case manifested by the unfair rejection of one of the main symbols Africanness or African Identity: the wearing of dreadlocks and keeping hair natural. Erasure of Africanness or African identity in any form (among others through banning dreadlocks in schools) should not be an additional cost to accessing education at a public school in Malawi”.


BODANSA strikes gold with a handsome P45K windfall from Turnstar Holdings

27th February 2024

The Botswana DanceSport Association (BODANSA) has been graced with a financial boon of P45,000 courtesy of Turnstar Holdings. This generous endowment is earmarked for the illustrious Botswana International Dance Sport Grand Prix Championships, which are scheduled to animate Gaborone from Friday to Saturday.

At a media engagement held early today, BODANSA’s Marketing Maestro, Tiro Ntwayagae, shared that Turnstar Holdings Limited has bestowed a gift of P45,000 towards the grand spectacle.

“We are thrilled to announce that this backing will enable us to orchestrate a cultural soirée at the Game City Marque locale, a night brimming with cultural fervor set for March 1, 2024, from 6pm to the stroke of midnight.

This enchanting space will also serve as the battleground for the preliminaries of traditional dance ensembles—spanning the rhythmically rich Setapa to the euphoric beats of Sebirwa, the spirited Seperu, the heavenly Hosana, and more—in a competition folded into the Traditional Dance Groups Category. The ensemble that dances into the judges’ hearts will clinch a grand prize of P10,000,” elaborated Ntwayagae.

He further illuminated that the cultural eve would not only celebrate traditional melodies but also the fresh beats of contemporary dance variants including Hip Hop, Sbujwa, Amapiano, among others, in a dazzling display of modern dance mastery.

Moreover, these championships carry the prestigious recognition by the World DanceSport Federation as a qualifying round for the Breakdance category for the Paris 2024 Olympics. “This is a monumental opportunity for athletes to leap towards their Olympic dreams during one of the penultimate qualifiers,” underscored Ntwayagae.

Looking ahead to March 2, 2024, the festivities will propel into the University of Botswana Indoor Sports Arena for the championship’s climactic showdowns encompassing Breakdance, Latin, and Ballroom Dancing.


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Government of Botswana yet to sign, ratify the UN-CRPD

26th February 2024

In Botswana, a beacon of democracy in Africa, the right to participate in the political discourse is a cornerstone of its societal structure. It’s an avenue through which citizens shape the rules and systems that govern their everyday lives. Despite this, recent studies indicate that Individuals with Disabilities (IWDs) are notably absent from political dialogues and face substantial hurdles in exercising their democratic freedoms.

Research within the nation has uncovered that IWDs encounter difficulties in engaging fully with the political process, with a pronounced gap in activities beyond mere voting. The call for environments that are both accessible and welcoming to IWDs is loud, with one participant, who has a physical disability, spotlighting the absence of ramps at voting venues and the dire need for enhanced support to facilitate equitable involvement in the electoral process.

The challenges highlighted by the study participants pinpoint the structural and social obstacles that deter IWDs from participating wholly in democracy. The inaccessibility of voting facilities and the lack of special accommodations for people with disabilities are critical barriers. Those with more significant or intellectual disabilities face even steeper challenges, often feeling marginalized and detached from political engagement.

To surmount these obstacles, there is an urgent appeal for Botswana to stride towards more inclusive and accessible political stages for IWDs. This necessitates a committed effort from both the government and relevant entities to enforce laws and policies that protect the rights of IWDs to partake in the political framework. Enhancing awareness and understanding of the political landscape among IWDs, alongside integrating inclusive practices within political entities and governmental bodies, is crucial.

By dismantling these barriers and nurturing an inclusive political environment, Botswana can live up to its democratic ideals, ensuring every citizen, regardless of ability, can have a substantive stake in the country’s political future.



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People with Disabilities Face Barriers to Political Participation in Botswana

23rd February 2024

Individuals challenged by disabilities encounter formidable obstacles when endeavoring to partake in political processes within the context of Botswana. Political involvement, a cornerstone of democratic governance, empowers citizens to shape the legislative landscape that impacts their daily existence. Despite Botswana’s reputation for upholding democratic ideals, recent insights unveil a troubling reality – those with disabilities find themselves marginalized in the realm of politics, contending with substantial barriers obstructing the exercise of their democratic liberties.

A recent inquiry in Botswana unveiled a panorama where individuals with disabilities confront hurdles in navigating the political arena, their involvement often restricted to the basic act of voting. Voices emerged from the study, underscoring the critical necessity of fostering environments that are accessible and welcoming, affording individuals with disabilities the active engagement they rightfully deserve in political processes. Noteworthy was the account of a participant grappling with physical impairments, shedding light on the glaring absence of ramps at polling stations and the urgent call for enhanced support mechanisms to ensure an equitable electoral participation.

The echoes reverberating from these narratives serve as poignant reminders of the entrenched obstacles impeding the full integration of individuals with disabilities into the democratic tapestry. The inaccessibility of polling stations and the glaring absence of provisions tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities loom large as formidable barricades to their political engagement. Particularly pronounced is the plight of those grappling with severe impairments and intellectual challenges, who face even steeper hurdles in seizing political participation opportunities, often grappling with feelings of isolation and exclusion from the political discourse.

Calls for decisive action cascade forth, urging the establishment of more inclusive and accessible political ecosystems that embrace individuals with disabilities in Botswana. Government bodies and concerned stakeholders are urged to prioritize the enactment of laws and policies designed to safeguard the political rights of individuals with disabilities. Furthermore, initiatives geared towards enhancing awareness and education on political processes and rights for this segment of society must be spearheaded, alongside the adoption of inclusive measures within political institutions and party structures.

By dismantling these barriers and nurturing a political landscape that is truly inclusive, Botswana can earnestly uphold its democratic ethos and afford every citizen, including those with disabilities, a substantive opportunity to partake in the political fabric of the nation.



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