By Paul Kaseke Snr
For the last three weeks, social media has been abuzz with discussions of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s latest plans to introduce a national pledge in schools from the start of the second term of the 2016 academic calendar.
In what follows I will discuss why this pledge is legally, morally and spiritually inappropriate to introduce in schools.
The pledge reads:
“Almighty God, in whose hands our future lies, I salute the national flag. 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. So I commit to honesty and the dignity of hard work.”
The constitutionality of the pledge …
By definition, a pledge is a solemn promise or agreement to do something or to refrain from doing something. It is sometimes referred to as a vow but more commonly, as an oath.
Section 60 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees each and every individual the freedom of conscience which includes ‘the freedom of thought, opinion, religion or belief’. Importantly, s 60 (3) states that parents and guardians of minors have the right to determine in accordance with their beliefs, the moral or religious upbringing of their children.
Freedom of thought is generally understood to be the freedom against having ideas forced down on an individual and inadvertently, the freedom from indoctrination. In a fully-fledged democracy, freedom of belief entails that beliefs cannot be forced on an individual by the State.
Unfortunately, pledges on a scale as the one proposed have the effect of pinning down a prescribed belief on minds that are not able to formulate their own informed opinion as yet.
It further has the effect of entrenching a culture of submissiveness and passivity in learning – a system where pupils do not question what they are told. It is immaterial that the belief in the pledge is correct or the right belief to force down on children. The basic argument and principle is very simple.
The moment anyone has to repeat a statement and belief formulated for him or her by another, then we have missed the mark with regards to this important freedom.
At this stage, I do not find it necessary for me to engage in the correctness of what the pledge states. My concern here is the underlying principle.
Brainwashing starts off on the same trajectory- making people repeat something for so long that they believe it to be true without interrogating it for themselves. That is not what the education system should be going for.
Our schools should be hubs of intellectual debate, critical thought and analysis. Students must therefore be taught the objective truth and make their own decision on what they should believe.
The moment we start cornering students into believing what they cannot interrogate and subscribe to voluntarily then we start to shift towards the very same ideological brainwashing that fascist regimes used to control young people.
I am not suggesting that this is what the government wants to do but I am saying the road is a dead end and this is what will end up happening at some point in time.
The Constitution envisages a robust consultative process with the parents of children in schools. It is therefore not sufficient to state that the consultation was done when the curriculum was discussed in the forums leading up to the adoption of the new curriculum because for many parents , the effect of the new curriculum was not explained well enough and certainly this aspect was not brought to their attention.
I find it very disturbing that parents who are the biggest stakeholders in their children’s lives and upbringing are not even consulted about such a move and the only courtesy extended to them is a circular by the schools not the ministry.
The secrecy in which the ministry did this borders on the sort of secrecy cults are built on. Again, this is not to suggest there is something sinister that the Ministry is planning, it just is very worrying that parents can be by-passed in this manner.
Section 60 (2) specifically prohibits the taking of oaths contrary to one’s religion or beliefs. By law, pupils can refuse to take the pledge – a point that the circulars sent to pupils and their parents is silent about.
In this regard, the Ministry has failed to respect the Constitution and seemingly violates all three aspects of s 60.
In addition, the Ministry does not make an exception for non –Zimbabwean pupils who will be forced to pledge despite the pledge not being relevant to them.
If our law recognises that children under the age of 18 cannot marry or conclude contracts because they lack capacity what makes the Ministry think that the same minors are now able to make solemn promises and agreements to uphold what is contained in the pledge?
I would go as far as saying that making children take pledges of whatever nature is inconsistent with the Constitution.
This is particularly true when viewed against s 19 (1) of the Constitution which requires that any policies and measures taken by the State must ensure that in matters relating to children ,the best interests of the child are paramount .
This is further qualified in s 19(3) (b) (ii) which requires the State to take appropriate measures to ensure that children are not required to perform or provide services or work inappropriate for the children’s age , or place at risk ,children’s well-being , spiritual or moral development .
A few important questions arise:
- Is this pledge in the interest of the child as opposed to being in the interest of the country?
- Does the pledge place at risk, the spiritual wellbeing of children when one considers that the pledge potentially stampedes on the religious beliefs of children?
- Is this pledge age appropriate when one considers the fact that children are at their formative and developmental stages during their primary and secondary education?
My gut instinct is to conclude that the answer to all these questions does not favour adopting the pledge.
Lastly , depending on one’s constitutional understanding , it is possible to challenge the pledge on grounds of it being a violation or affront to children’s dignity and potentially constituting degrading treatment or psychological torture both of which are prohibited by the Constitution.
Religion and the pledge …
There is no doubt that the pledge steps on and violates a number of religious beliefs but let’s start with the most obvious. The pledge starts by addressing ‘Almighty God’ but the question is, in our diversity of religion, which God is being referred to?
Some people subscribe to the notion of one God and many avenues or routes to the Supreme Being but many do not believe the God they worship is the same as the one worshiped by the next person hence many religions have a process of conversion to the faith.
The question then is, who is being addressed?
Does this too not bring back the idea of forcing a belief on the pupils?
A more controversial question is, what happens to those who do not subscribe to religious beliefs at all? Does this not violate their right to religious beliefs?
As a Christian myself, I am only qualified to speak on what the values and principles that constitute the Christian faith. On this score, the Bible is very clear on oaths or pledges – they are forbidden.
Textually, one only needs to look Matthew 5 v 33-37 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’
But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” This is also repeated by James in James 5 v 12 where he says
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.
The condemnation he speaks of comes from Numbers 30 v 2 “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth”.
That only goes to show that God holds the pledgee to a high standard and yet the Ministry casually makes our children pledge that which they cannot do because they do not comprehend nor fully grasp the words they are made to repeat.
Clearly, the Ministry meddles with the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith and does not seem bothered to consult religious leaders and parents on something this serious.
Like I said, I cannot speak for other religions but I am willing to suggest that this pledge is inconsistent with a number of religious groupings.
It must also be noted that some portions of the pledge are inconsistent and difficult to reconcile with different religious teachings. Take for instance the commitment to celebrate traditions and cultures of the country.
Now, it is common cause that some traditions in Zimbabwe go against the Bible (again, I can only speak on Christianity).
How does one reconcile that to their faith? Why should a Christian child be made to repeat that which goes against the faith he or she subscribes? Clearly, this was not a well thought out pledge.
But the Americans have it, why can’t we?
Many have raised the argument that Zimbabwe would not be the first country to introduce a pledge and I concede that this is true but that does not mean we should adopt one.
Of course the most prominent pledge in the world is found in the USA where it is recited in public schools, at official gatherings, before the start of national gatherings and at many military events.
America is free to enact whatever they want to enact .Zimbabwe as a sovereign state with its one laws, is not bound to follow the American pledge of allegiance path which has itself been subject to numerous legal challenges since its creation in 1892.
We are bound by our own values and more importantly, by our Constitution which is the supreme law of the land. That is the appropriate test and deciding factor, not who else is doing it.
The motive behind the pledge is supposedly to introduce a sense of patriotism but the education system has produced many patriotic Zimbabweans without the aid of the pledge.
There is nothing broken about our sense of patriotism that warrants extreme measures such as blind pledge taking.
One can only hope that the Ministry revisits this pledge issue and redirects its energies into fixing bigger problems affecting our schools such as the lack of textbooks , teachers , adequate teaching facilities and improving the lives of our educators.