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Lawyer Sammy Darko Writes On Dreadlocks In Ghana


It’s not about whether Tyron Marghuy is eloquent or brilliant or disciplined. It’s about whether a school and here, it doesn’t matter whether it is Achimota or Okess, can a school deny a ward of a Rastafarian( keeping of dreadlocks based on religion/faith) admission on account of dreadlocks in Ghana? This matter is new to us as a nation but old to others. It has been settled in Southern Africa and elsewhere.

In Kenya, the same issue appeared before its Supreme Court for the first time in 2019. This was the case of J W M (alias P) V Board of Management O High School & 2 others [2019] eKLR. The Petitioner, is father to MNW a 15 years Rastafarian girl who was admitted to Form One at O High School, a public secondary school, for her secondary schoo…

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It’s not about whether Tyron Marghuy is eloquent or brilliant or disciplined. It’s about whether a school and here, it doesn’t matter whether it is Achimota or Okess, can a school deny a ward of a Rastafarian( keeping of dreadlocks based on religion/faith) admission on account of dreadlocks in Ghana?

This matter is new to us as a nation but old to others. It has been settled in Southern Africa and elsewhere. In Kenya, the same issue appeared before its Supreme Court for the first time in 2019. This was the case of J W M (alias P) V Board of Management O High School & 2 others [2019] eKLR. The Petitioner, is father to MNW a 15 years Rastafarian girl who was admitted to Form One at O High School, a public secondary school, for her secondary school education in January 2019.


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She reported to school, paid the required fees and was dully issued with admission Number, allocated a class and even attended lessons. However, it was soon discovered that keeps rastas which led to her being sent home with a warning not to return to school until she had shaved the rastas. The SC ordered the school to admit the child with dreadlocks based on religious grounds.

In Malawi, the issue surfaced as recently as 2020. The Petitioner was upset when the Blantyre Girls Primary School refused to enroll her daughter, Makeda Mbewe, because of her hair.The school said the girl’s dreadlocks were against a policy requiring students to have their hair shortly trimmed.

The High Court in Malawi ordered all public schools to allow students with dreadlocks. In addition, the Court ordered the school to give daughter Makeda extra classes to make up for those she missed.


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In Zimbabwe, as early as 2007/8, the Supreme Court in the case of Farai Dzvova v Minister of Education, Sports and Culture and Others (2007) AHRLR 189 (ZwSC 2007), by a unanimous decision, ruled that the expulsion of six year-old Farai Dzvova from the Ruvheneko Government Primary School because of his expression of his religious belief through wearing dreadlocks was in contravention of section 19 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Non admission on grounds of dreadlocks even extends to lawyers-the case of IN RE CHIKWECHE 1995 (4) SA 284 (ZC).


In this case, the applicant had applied for his registration as a legal practitioner in terms of the Legal Practitioners Act 15 of 1981 (Z). It appeared that the applicant possessed all the necessary qualifications required by the appropriate regulations and that he had satisfied the additional requirements laid down in s 5(1) of the Act. When the applicant appeared in Court on the day of the application, the presiding Judge considered him to be ‘unkempt’ and not properly ‘dressed’ as the applicant, a Rastafarian, habitually wore his hair in the style known as ‘dreadlocks’.


The presiding Judge accordingly declined to permit the applicant to take the oath of loyalty and of office in terms of s 63 of the Act as a preliminary to registration. The SC in Zimbabwe held that the status of Rastafarianism as a religion in the wide and non-technical sense had to be accepted and the applicant’s manifestation of his religion by the wearing of dreadlocks fell within the protection afforded by s 19(1) of the Constitution. (At 290G.)


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The South African Supreme Court has also upheld the wearing of dreadlocks on grounds of religion (Popcru 2013). In this case, the Respondents all wore dreadlocks albeit for different reasons. It is their refusal to cut their hair when ordered to do so under the department’s Corporate Identity Dress Code (the dress code) that led to their dismissals and these proceedings.


The SC held that “a policy is not justified if it restricts a practice of religious belief – and by necessary extension, a cultural belief that does not affect an employee’s ability to perform his duties, nor jeopardise the safety of the public or other employees, nor cause undue hardship to the employer in a practical sense”.

As for Jamaica, it is a well settled law that you can’t deny ward of Rastafarians admission on account of dreadlocks. Some have been posting a news publication from media houses like CNN that gives a wrong account of the case-Dale Virgo, ZV C. Kensington school, Ministry of Education and ORS 2020. This is what the SC court of Jamaica said at paragraph 88; “SONIA BERTRAM LINTON, J


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[88] This is not a case of Rastafarians being prevented from having their child attend a public institution because of dreadlocks worn out of religious observance. That issue has long been settled in our school system and there are countless children throughout our schools in attendance who wear dreadlocks. It was very succinctly stated by the 2nd Claimant’s attorney that the religious beliefs of the parents were never communicated to the school and the tenure of the case argued by the claimant’s attorney was not one which was defending the abridging of religious freedom.


In fact, the Claimant’s attorney openly stated that the parents or the child did not and should not have to disclose any religious adherence, and that the child should be allowed to attend school in the way that her hair was adorned because it represented the family’s decision as to their expression and freedom, to choose how to wear their hair and not necessarily in keeping with any religious belief.


This in and of itself is a bold and generalised statement which if taken at face value has innumerable implications for the length and breadth of self-expression that should be allowed in our schools. The issue of a Nazarene Vow taken by the parents and their hair as an expression of it would seem to be a belated addition to the claim”.


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Should this matter end up at the Supreme Court of Ghana, these cases are not binding on it but for persuasive effect. What our SC will say and nothing more pretentious is what will be law.

Remember a rule is not a law. It has to be tested against the law. In this case the constitution.

In the Jamaica case, which many people have wrongly cited on social media to back cutting of dreadlocks , one of the reasons the court upheld the unwritten rule of the school against the child’ freedoms of expression through hairstyle was that the rule was to stop the spread of LICE. There had been previous outbreak of lice because parents of the children failed to clean up their hair properly. The court said the rule which was based on health and hygiene was not a limitation on the child’s freedom of expression.


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I have read the reason of Achimota. It says boldly to PREVENT UNNECESSARY ATTENTION AND TIME WASTING ON HAIRDOS.

So my thinking is that, should an action to the SC be based silt on freedom of expression-what will it say?

Should an action to the SC be based solely on Religious grounds, what will it say?


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Should it be based on multiple grounds-combination of religion, expression, education etc, what will the court say?

The above can guide us.

Cheers.


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Credit: Sammy Darko is a private legal practitioner, a journalist and lecturer at the University of Professional Studies-UPSA


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