Zimbabwe: Supreme Court to Determine Dreadlocked Boy's Case

Harare, Zimbabwe - THE Supreme Court will soon determine whether the dreadlocked seven-year-old Glen Norah boy, Farai Benjamin Dzvova, should be allowed to attend school with the hairstyle his Rastafarian family desires.

The family say the boy's religious freedom is infringed, while the education authorities say a short hair rule has nothing to do with religion but was simply a school standard applicable to all pupils. Dzvova, who is popularly known as Benji, was expelled from Ruvheneko Primary School in Glen Norah a few weeks after he started Grade One in January last year.

However, the boy won an interim relief to go back to school pending the determination of his case, which a High Court judge, Justice Tendayi Uchena, referred to the Supreme Court after his father, Mr Collin Dzvova, through his lawyer Mr Zvikomborero Chadambuka, had raised a constitutional point.

On Thursday last week, the Supreme Court, sitting as a constitutional court, heard arguments by both lawyers appearing for Dzvova and the Minister of Education, Sport and Culture, Cde Aeneas Chigwedere, and Ruvheneko Primary School headmaster, Mr F Nyahunye, who are listed as respondents. Mr Chadambuka wants the court to determine whether the exclusion of the boy from school was legal as envisaged in the Constitution.

In the event that the Supreme Court establishes that the exclusion was determined under the authority of a law, it would also consider whether such a law was reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

Mr Chadambuka argued that the rule requiring short hair, which had been used to bar his client from school, was not a law. He said the conduct of expelling the child was done under the authority of that rule.

"The rule is clearly not a law as envisaged by the Constitution and the interpretation of the Act. Thus, the conduct cannot derogate from the Constitution and purport to limit a constitutional right," he said.

The rules used to expel the boy, Mr Chadambuka argued, were in the context contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. Benji is from a Rastafarian family and has worn dreadlocks since birth.

Mrs Revai Sweto-Mukuruba of the Civil Division of the Attorney General's Office, in her counter arguments, said it had never been contended that Rastafarianism was a religion that is protected under the Constitution. She said the issue at hand was whether the school rules were saved from being a contravention of the sections in questions.

Mrs Sweto-Mukuruba argued that in terms of the Education Act, the minister was conferred with powers to make regulations, which provide for discipline in schools and the exercise of the disciplinary powers over pupils attending schools.

These include powers to administer corporal punishment, and the suspension and expulsion of pupils in respect of their attendance and conduct in schools. The regulations, Mrs Sweto-Mukuruba said, authorised schools to set standards to be enforced at their respective schools.

She said the requirement to keep short hair was a school standard which is not a religious instruction.

"Since schools cater for pupils from different religious beliefs and practices, there is need for a school standard which applies to all pupils uniformly," she said, urging the court to dismiss the constitutional case.