THE decision by the Electoral Commission of Zambia to obey without question the judgment of the Kabwe High Court that political office aspirants possessing academic qualifications higher than Grade 12, but without the Grade 12 certificate itself, to participate in the August 11 general elections, lays to rest one of the most controversial debates in modern Zambian politics.
And we applaud the courage and foresight of Sibongile Zulu, the young Zambian woman who did not just complain or join the debate for or against the Grade 12 qualification, but decided go to court to seek the correct interpretation of the constitutional clause.
Her meritorious challenge of the law opened the door of opportunity to hundreds of other Zambians with similar qualifications who did not know what to do but who felt sidelined by the ECZ’s insistence that only those in possession of Grade 12 certificate or its equivalent could take part in the elections for President, MPs, mayors and councillors.
Yesterday, the Electoral Commission of Zambia quashed the Grade 12 certificate as the only requirement and capitulated to the fact that even those without the Grade 12 certificate but holding superior qualifications do qualify to stand as candidates in the forthcoming elections.
It ruled that ‘‘qualifications obtained from tertiary institutions such as trade certificate, diploma or university degree’’ will be accepted as long as they have been verified by the Zambia Qualifications Authority or the institution that issued the certificate.
Now aspiring candidates only need to ensure they obtain supporting letters from their colleges or universities validating their documents which will be presented to ECZ on nomination day.
The historic judgment by Kabwe High Court Judge -in-Charge Dominic Sichinga will go down in the annals of Zambia’s legal textbooks as one that “corrected’’ what could have been an injustice in the amended Constitution. It also opened the pandora’s box for many more challenges of the new law in the Constitutional Court.
This is how Mr Justice Sichinga coined his judgment: ‘‘I am quite satisfied that tertiary certification by their definition is higher than a ‘secondary education’ which, according to the Education Act, means ‘education provided from Grades 8 to 12’.
‘‘In this context I accept the submissions highlighted by the learned Attorney General that a qualification higher than secondary school or its equivalent renders a person eligible to contest elective office under impugned provisions of the Constitution. In my view, a higher qualification includes any certification awarded by a tertiary institution or educational institution that offers skills training,’’ he said.
The debate over the Grade 12 clause has tremendously enriched our democracy as the Government allowed free debate and citizens taxed each other’s intellectual capabilities to try and build a case for or against the issue. In the end there is no winner or loser. It is our democracy that has greatly benefited from the High Court judgment.
The tacit lesson from all this is that Zambians should learn to resolve issues through debate, dialogue and consensus building and, where need arises, the justice system. There is no need for insults, threats, anger or havoc by those who believe and practice democratic constitutionalism. They simply debate and when they are not satisfied they go to court to seek interpretation.
The name Sibongile Zulu will remain an integral part of the Zambian law reports for time immemorial. It had to take a brave young woman to solve what many thought was a cul de sac in the Constitution.
For her nothing was impossible.