SALC: 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).