HARARE – The other day I saw a story about another child being denied an education unless she cut off her dreadlocks.
Thirteen-year-old Anele Makhiwa was denied entry to Bulawayo Adventist Secondary School in Bulawayo because of her hair and her parents have appealed to the High Court to have her accepted in the school as her hair is part of their Rastafarian faith.
Justice Misheck Cheda reserved judgment and it seems poor Anele will have to wait for the judge to make a ruling before she can attend classes. This made me both sad and angry because I’ve been there, the only difference being, I was an adult who was being denied a passport because of my hair.
In 1994, Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede decreed I should cut my locks off before he could issue me with a new passport.
When I said that was not going to happen, he suggested I could tie it into a ponytail.
I argued that my hairstyle was an affirmation of who I am: an African and as such I would not cut it or hide my hair behind my head.
Mudede was unmoved arguing that I’d have problems boarding planes with my hair.
I checked with the International Air Transport Association (Iata) and they told me no such rule existed.
So I decided to drag him to court.
When the case was finally heard in the High Court on August 30th 1995, the reason for denying me a passport had changed to, “there is an international law that says one has to show their ears on their passport photos.”
This proved that Mudede was making up the rules as he went along and he was just exposing his own prejudice against people with dreadlocks rather than implementing any law.
The whole courtroom, including Justice Simbi Mubako was in stitches. It took the learned judge all of less than five minutes to order the Registrar General’s office to give me my passport.
I still remember his words: “We know you have a job to do but stop being frivolous, go and give the man his passport.”
I was both happy and very sad.
Happy because I hoped this would once and for all put the matter to bed as some people had been forced to cut off their locks in order to get their passports.
Sad because Mudede, who should have known better, chose to waste taxpayers money and the court’s time as his (government) department was made to pay the costs of the case.
I was not the first person to go to court over dreadlocks.
Earlier in 1995, the Supreme Court overturned a High Court ruling that lawyer Munyaradzi Gwisai was, “unkempt” and unfit to be registered as a legal practitioner because of his dreadlocks.
The highest court in the land ruled that Gwisai be permitted to take the oath of office and be registered.
Gwisai’s argument was that he is a Rastafarian.
Given the above one would think the debate about dreadlocks is over but the fact that Anele is the third child to be barred from school because of her hair shows it is not.
The other two are Mbalenhle Dube also from Bulawayo and Farai Benjamin Dzvova a Harare boy who was only allowed into the classroom after the courts said he could not be barred because of his hair. – ish Mafundikwa