You don’t have to be Dread to be Rasta…

“In Jamaica they have freedom to smoke mbanje, varume vanogara vakadhakwa (men are always drunk) and universities are full of women. The men want to sing and do not go to college, vamwe vanobva vamonwa musoro (some are dreadlocked). Let us not go there,” these were the words that President Mugabe allegedly uttered at the Research and Intellectual Expo 2012.

Jamaica is generally a nation of good repute, characterised by democratic principles and a rule of law. However like any nation they have their own shortcomings, as does Zimbabwe.  As the old saying goes, “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”.

Prominent Jamaicans grace history books for the social, political, cultural and economic imprints they left or are leaving on the world. Individuals such as Michael Manley, Bob Marley and Dudley Thompson fought alongside Zimbabweans in heart and spirit during the liberation struggle and rejoiced with us when we attained our independence. If the President did utter these words, then that is not only unfortunate but also inappropriate.

His words were also inappropriate as they exposed his limited understanding of Jamaican culture and Rastafarianism. Not all Jamaicans are ‘Rastas’ and not all ‘Rastas’ are Jamaicans or associated with Jamaica. Not all ‘Rastas’ ascribe to the religious practice of dread locking their hair or smoking marijuana (weed).

Those Rastafarians who grow their hair into dreadlocks do it because they believe it is part of the Nazarite Vow commanded by the Bible in Leviticus 21:5.They believe that like Samson, their hair is their strength and cutting it represents their weakness. The belief in the weakness caused by cutting off their dreadlocks has been used against them in the past.  To many Rastafarians, dreadlocks also symbolize the mane (locks) of the lion in the Lion of Judah.

Smoking marijuana (weed) is also not legal in Jamaica and not all Rastafarians smoke weed, but those who do, do so for religious reasons. They believe it is a Holy herb hence no one should judge them derisively because of their belief. Our inclination as humans is always to fear, dread and criticise what we do not know or understand.

It is also undiplomatic and is causing a  stir in the Jamaican polity, with the Opposition demanding action from the Government of Jamaica, even the removal of honors given to the President. According to the Daily News, the Jamaican Prime Minister has said that the comments  “were grossly unfortunate, misguided and untrue.”, even if they were spoken in jest.

This incident by our President is a good example of why it is important to be well informed about the subjects we speak on and not to make public comments based on personal and inaccurate prejudices.


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