A 13-year-old Zambian boy has so far spent four weeks at home after being denied admission into a government school for having dreadlocks.
Chisanga Mubanga had reported to join Kasama boys secondary school, in the northern province, but administrators told him to cut his hair first, an order his father, a Rastafarian, refused to comply with.
“No, because the boy has vow of a Nazarite, check Numbers six ,chapter five [‘They must never cut their hair throughout the time of their vow, for they are holy and set apart to the Lord. Until the time of their vow has been fulfilled, they must let their hair grow long’].” Nathan Mubanga told the BBC of the biblical verse.
His son attended a private school in his lower grades and did not face any demand to cut his dreadlocks, but this changed when he wanted to join a government institution.
Joel Kamoko, the ministry of education permanent secretary, told the BBC that he backed the school’s decision.
“A learner in any school is expected to conform to the prescribed school rules that include being clean and keeping hair short or shaven for boys and smart for both girls and boys,” Mr Kamoko said.
“Dreadlocks are not an accepted hair style in any government school because it defies the general guidance given from which individual schools draw their specifics,” he added.
Maiko Zulu, a civil rights activist and a Rastafarian, complained about the treatment of Chisanga Mubanga.
He said there is no law in Zambia that requires children with dreadlocks to cut their hair as a condition to school admission.
“I find the denial of dreadlocked pupils in government schools to not only be discriminatory but also an infringement on children’s rights,” he told the BBC.
“We have children of other faiths including Muslims in some schools while Rastafarians with dreadlocks are not only denied an opportunity to get an education but also being denied access to obtain national identity documents like national registration cards, passports and drivers’ licenses until they cut their hair.”
Mr Mubanga said he’s determined to get justice for his son.
The stand-off has divided opinion in Zambia.