Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku on Thursday dismissed an urgent chamber application by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights or ZLHR to stay the reciting of the national pledge in schools until the court makes a ruling on the case.
ZLHR lawyer David Hofisi says the Constitutional Court will only hear the matter in June.
Government, through the ministry of education, introduced a national pledge which school children have to recite and Minister Lazarus Dokora said schools would start enforcing it starting next month.
President Robert Mugabe will now join 4.2 million pupils, parents and guardians in the inaugural national schools pledge to be recited in all schools on May 3.
The urgent application was filed Tuesday by a parent Mathew Sologani. The respondents were cited as Dokora, the headmaster of Mashambanhaka Secondary School, Mashonaland East, the headmaster of Chizungu Primary School in Harare and the Attorney General.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is representing Sologani, a father of three. The lawyers had argued in papers filed Tuesday that, the applicant (Sologani) is entitled to an urgent hearing of the matter due to the fact that he will suffer irreparable harm if his children are compelled to recite a pledge which is contrary to their views, opinions and beliefs.
The lawyers further said Sologani prayed for the following order:
- The policy requirement for recitation of the national pledge in all schools and by all schoolchildren as required by the 1st Respondent be and is hereby stayed pending the determination of the Constitutional Court Application filed in Case Number CCZ /16.
- Consequently, there shall be no recitation of the national pledge as required by the 1st Respondent pending the determination of the Constitutional Court Application filed in Case Number CCZ 31/16.
- As such, the 2nd and 3rd Respondents shall not, require school children, including Applicant’s children, to recite the national pledge as formulated pending the determination of the Constitutional Court Application filed in Case Number CCZ 31/16.
- Each party to bear its own costs.
The National Pledge
The pledge reads" “Almighty God in whose hands our future lies: I salute the national flag. United in our diversity by our common desire for freedom, justice and equality Respecting the brave fathers and mothers who lost lives in the Chimurenga/Umvukela. We are proud inheritors of the richness of our natural resources. We are proud creators and participants in our vibrant traditions and cultures. I commit to honesty and dignity of hard work.”
To illustrate his objection, Sologani quotes from the Bible, Exodus Chapter 5 verses 3 - 5:
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;”
Sologani also argued that he is also guided by the text of the Gospel According to Matthew Chapter 6: 5-6
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Sologani further said, “It is apparent to me that what is being referred to as a national pledge is in fact a prayer. It is a prayer which exalts various secular phenomena including the national flag and the mothers and fathers who lost their lives in the liberation struggle."
He adds, "It is an address to Almighty God and salutation of various secular values in the presence of God. This is not my understanding of prayer or indeed that shared by my faith. Worship, to me, is reserved for God and for nobody and nothing else. Whilst it is laudable to extol the virtues of the diversity and even those of the Liberation Struggle, that is not done in the context of prayer. ”
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Teachers Association have both opposed the pledge calling it “propaganda and unconstitutional.”
Opposition People’s Democratic Party president Tendai Biti called the pledge “fascist.”
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu argued that the national pledge can also be viewed as some form of “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of Section 53 of the country’s supreme law.”
But Dokora defended the national pledge, saying it derived most of its content from the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
“The preamble to the Constitution carries a greater part of the content of the pledge."