HARARE – The Constitutional Court (Con-Court) yesterday reserved ruling in an application in which a Harare man, Mathew Sogolani, is challenging the recitation of the national pledge by school children.
The pledge, which pupils have to recite every day before they start lessons, was introduced at the beginning of the second school term last year.
Pupils pledge their allegiance to God and Zimbabwe’s national flag.
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 resource, we are proud creators and participants in our vibrant traditions and cultures, I commit to honesty and dignity of hard work.”
In the Con-Court application in which Sogolani is challenging Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarus Dokora’s directive, he argued that the Church had a role to protect school children from unorthodox practices such as satanism infiltrating schools under the guise of religion.
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, leading the full Con-Court bench of nine judges, reserved ruling in the matter yesterday after hearing submissions from Sogolani’s lawyer David Hofisi and Dokora’s legal representative Lewis Uriri.
Making submissions before the court, Hofisi yesterday said that the national pledge was inconsistent with the country’s Constitution and must be banned or at least be declared optional.
“In this case, the applicant (Sogolani) contends that the national pledge amounts to a prayer, it is more or less a communication with a deity. It also amounts to a religious observance and to the very least an oath,” Hofisi said.
He said the pledge is, in a way, a State endorsement of a religion and has a coercing and constraining effect in that it is a required speech for all school children. He further said that children are vulnerable and should be protected by the law.
Hofisi also said that the pledge is not in terms of any lawful authority.
However, Uriri said the minister is acting within the purview of his duties to improve the country’s education system.
He said there is no religion that was established by the national pledge, adding that no constitutional issues arise from the application.
He said Sogolani’s objection on the reference to the Almighty God in the national pledge is inconsistent with his claim that he is a Christian, who believes in one God.
He further said that the reference to the Almighty God is a mere ceremonial deism, just like how judges are referred to as “Lords”.
“…doctrinal entanglement must be avoided,” Uriri said.
However, in his court papers, Sogolani argues that the national pledge is against his religious beliefs.
“My religion is central to all aspects of my life and affects how I relate with and understand the world. I would not easily be amenable to partaking in or receiving a religious instruction that is contrary to my own belief. In the same vein, I would not take lightly any attempt to foist on or coerce out of my children any religious observance or invocation contrary to our beliefs,” he said.