Zimbabwe’s Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Lazarus Dokora in April 2016 issued a directive halting Scripture Union clubs from operating in government schools in the country as was reported in state media. This was followed by moves towards discouraging churches from renting and worshiping in government school buildings. The decisions prompted rumours that religious stuff such as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ were going to be banned next. In a nation that is highly religious yet poverty-stricken like Zimbabwe, the directive by the Minister Dokora was a very brave yet commendable move.
Why Religion must be separated from Education in poor countries
In progressive nations, religion is not part of the national education system and Zimbabwe should not be an exception. Whilst families do indeed take responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of their children, this should not be done with the connivance of public institutions or taxpayer-funded public spaces like schools.
It is high time religion and education are separated and churches should only carry out whatever activity they claim to do in their own private spaces. Religions, especially Christianity’s hold on Zimbabwean society needs to be interrogated. It is only fair considering that Zimbabwe is not a Christian nation, yet the Christian faith has taken root in public life, not because of any mysterious powers but due obviously to the nation’s historical past of Bible-backed colonialism and capitalism imposed economic poverty. The latter (poverty) forces people to turn for salvation in supernatural beings and the hopes of a better after-life instead of fighting for a better world whilst still on Earth.
History has proven that religion has taken root in the underdeveloped countries in a way that is almost directly proportional to the way atheism and agnostics are rampant in more developed and prosperous nations. A clear example is the Scandinavian countries where most of Zimbabwean aid comes from. In Sweden, about 7-0-80% of the population is not religious, and yet the GDP stands at over US$58,898.90 according to World Bank statistics. In comparison, Zimbabwe and Malawi are among the poorest nations in the world, with mere GDPs of sickening US$931.20 and US $255.00 respective, yet we have seen an unprecedented rise of sensational Pentecostal churches in the same countries, giving no benefit to the populace except making them part with their hard earned money as ‘talents’, ‘seeding’ and ‘tithes’ to cushion the lazy lives of dubious, semi-illiterate and pro-establishment ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’.
Likewise, the use of public premises for private religious activities must be highly discouraged. Public buildings must merely be used for the purposes they were set up for, lest the nations and tax-payers end up being disadvantaged by wear and tear on public property as well as the interruption of students’ weekend study by hymns and the uttering of ‘tongues’.
Children must not be abused
The consciousness of children is a delicate manner. As children grow up, society accepts that they cannot be forced into such things as child labour and political activity as well as the undertaking of certain intoxicating drugs and alcohols.
This protective stance on children takes cognisance of their early stages of mental growth and development. However, the same consideration is not extended to ‘spiritual ‘matters, leaving religion and the church with the free reign to manipulate the developing child’s brain. That is hypocrisy. In as much as society cannot accept a six or fourteen-year-old girl or boy being part of political parties like Zanu-Pf, MDCT, ZimPf, PDP, EFF-Zim or NCA, because that child has not reached a reasonable level of psychological development where the child can make critical political decisions, such a society, must also know that the same girl or boy needs time to grow before independently choosing to be faith-based, non-religious, agnostic or atheist. Public schools must be non-religious and non-political, unbiased towards any form of spiritualism or nationalism or any other ‘...isms’.
But he’s wrong on the national pledge
Whilst the above moves are progressive, it is unfortunate that the Minister and government have decided to enforce a ‘National Pledge’. Both the immorality and senseless of the pledge have been well articulated by some religious groups and trade unions like the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ). It is obviously ridiculous after banning religious clubs to then force children to recite a religious-tinted national pledge.
Rather the government should have allowed a time for children and other targeted pledge-takers to be educated about the themes behind the pledge, especially on the relevance of such a pledge after nearly four decades of independence. Finally, the pledge would have been better to be areligious, or at least to uphold the virtues of a multi-religious-cum-areligious society.
In conclusion, it is part of government mandate to ensure that children’s’ mental and physical needs are catered for through academic support, teaching and sporting activities. However spiritual activities, just like political decisions must not be imposed on a young person, until he reaches an age where he is expected to make informed decisions about those things by herself or himself. It’s unfair to think a person who can’t be allowed to vote or marry can be expected to make religious decisions. Furthermore, in these times of dictatorship, it is hard to think that blind patriotism can be a virtue. In short, religious activities, churches and Scripture Unions at government schools and prayers during non-religious public functions must fall, likewise the so-called #NationalPledgeMustFall.