Zambia’s Sugo Fiasco: Interpreting the constitution’s Grade 12 requirement

E. Munshya, LLB, LLM, MBA, M.Div.

In the recent constitution amendment signed by President Edgar Lungu is a provision that is both absurd and confusing. According to Article 70 (1) (d), a person is eligible to be elected as a Member of Parliament, if that person “has obtained, as a minimum academic qualification, a grade twelve certificate or its equivalent”. This provision has sent shivers and panic, no less, among the very parliamentarians that passed the constitution. Some quarters are even suggesting that candidates should produce their grade twelve certificates if they are to stand for political office. I submit that the Zambian courts will have to provide a more creative interpretation of this provision if we are to avoid the mess it has brought. However, today, I just want to dispel a few fears.

Is grade twelve the academic qualification for political office? No, the constitution is clear; a grade twelve certificate is the minimum academic qualification. So a person does not need to produce this minimum qualification if they have a superior qualification.

Can a person have a higher academic qualification if they did not complete grade twelve? Yes, in fact many of our senior judges, lawyers and senior civil servants in Zambia never completed grade twelve as they never went to secondary school. Kenneth Kaunda trained as a school teacher and yet he did not have a grade twelve education. Frederick Chiluba graduated from Warwick University with a Master of Philosophy degree and yet he never had a grade twelve education. It is possible for a person to not complete grade twelve and yet have academic qualifications that are superior to it. If Kaunda, Mainza Chona or Chiluba were to stand as MPs under the current constitution, they would not have to show a grade twelve certificate, all they would need to show are their tertiary qualifications.

How can a person have tertiary education if they do not have secondary education? This is what confuses many. In the real world, it does not take secondary education to do tertiary education. In fact, Zambian universities and colleges can admit students on mature entry status who do not possess a grade twelve education. Those graduates would still have an education that is superior to a grade twelve certificate and can qualify to stand based on Article 70 (1) (d).

Some institutions demand grade twelve even from those with superior degrees, isn’t the constitution saying the same thing? Article 70 (1) (d) does not state that a candidate must have a grade twelve education as well as other education. It simply states the minimum. It can also be noted that the Article is referring to a “certificate”, and not to an “education”. So it is not asking for a grade twelve education, but a grade twelve certificate. A grade twelve certificate can be obtained without twelve years of education and in fact, even a superior qualification can be obtained in its place. While it is true that ZIALE, as an example, demands grade twelve certificate in addition to a bachelor of laws degree in its admission requirements, this is different from what 70 (1) (d) is requiring. With due respect, you cannot interpret the constitution on the basis of discriminatory practices of bodies such as ZIALE or the Nursing Council of Zambia.

Elias Munshya, LLM, M.A., MBA, M.Div.

Can trades certificate and diplomas qualify as superior to grade twelve education? We might have to wait for a court ruling on this one, but the old myth that trades and vocational education is not academic enough has long been dispelled. Vocational training and the trades are as academic as a university education. All tertiary education in Zambia is superior to secondary education. Education in Zambia is roughly demarcated as follows: primary, secondary and tertiary education, in the level of their superiority. 70 (1) (d) makes secondary education the minimum, meaning all those with tertiary education do qualify to stand. To say that a person cannot have tertiary education unless they have secondary education is as ridiculous as suggesting that for one to have secondary education they must first have primary education. There are clear instances where a person without primary education due to circumstances beyond their control would go straight to secondary education. Trades certificates such as diplomas and certificates in plumbing, cooking, and joinery from a recognised institution of training in Zambia is academically superior to any secondary education.

There is a lot to say about the grade twelve qualification. It is absurd and if it came up before the constitutional court, it will be interpreted very liberally so as to allow more people to qualify to stand as political leaders. It is certainly absurd to demand that councillors in Milenge have a grade twelve certificate when secondary school arrived there only very recently. Let us end here for now and see how this sugo fiasco plays out.

Editorial Note: Elias Munshya holds three degrees in law and is currently undergoing the bar admission process in the jurisdiction of Alberta. Those personally affected by the issues raised in this article are encouraged to consult members of the Zambian bar for legal advice specific to their situation.

Citation: Munshya, E. (2016). Zambia’s Sugo Fiasco: Interpreting the constitution’s Grade 12 requirement. Elias Munshya Blog. (



  1. Thank you for your interpretation. its clear that that this article 70d has been miss traslated by ecz. I’m one of the people affected. I reached grade twelve but due to circumstances not of my making I didn’t sit for my g 12 exams have no 12 certificate. but through my had work I managed to obtain 3 trades certificate s from ecz. 2 diploma s from teveta 2 post graduate diploma s from Cavendish university Zambia and 1 mba. aim I not qualified than G 12?


  3. Thanks for detailed explainations, i was just looking at it on surface. I did not know that it had such details, Mr Munshya.

  4. I feel this clause was necessitated by the inability to read, ‘write’ and worse still discuss debate issues in parliament exhibited by our leaders in the house. Most of the current MP’s in the house currently sat on the constitutional making process and imagine this, they could not let their voices be heard because of this inability mentioned. By adding this clause, it is hopped that MP’s will be able to contribute positively on issues taken to the house for legislation.

    I stand to argue that not all vocational training course require that one posses a grade 12 certificate and for such programmes, we cannot equate or consider those to be superior qualifications. In fact this reminds me of the famous saying by the Grade 12 just before and during the writing of the final examinations that ‘….G12 ni teacher kumene…’ Its only after you finish school that you realize that you still a long away to be a fully qualified teacher.

    I feel 50 years plus our Country needs these progressive clauses in enshrined in the highest law of the land. The inability to read and argue out points as exhibited by our MP’s clearly shows that in most cases business in the house is done without proper reasoning.

  5. While I respect Munshya’s right to freedom of expression, he should be more measured on what is less than straightforward, especially for someone who carries himself as a lawyer and who advertises his legal qualifications publicly, notwithstanding that he is not qualified to practice as an attorney in Zambia or stand before any judge. Please do not mislead people. Where you also don’t know, state so, put a disclaimer and mention clearly that yours are pedestrian opinions, not legal insights. Unfortunately, law does not operate on what is basic or logical; the starting premise is always on what is legal. Arising from this position, my understanding, which may be completely wrong, is that by stating that a grade twelve certificate or its equivalent is the minimum requirement for elective public office, the law is essentially stating that even if someone has a degree, he or she would not be considered without a minimum Grad 12 certificate. What this simply suggests is that it is mandatory for an aspiring candidate to meet the Minimum Qualifications in order to be considered for the job, which means that one needs to first have gone to secondary school and earned a grade 12 certificate or its equivalent elsewhere.

  6. I agree with much of what you said. But I find the following to be of doubtful validity:

    “…Trades certificates such as diplomas and certificates in plumbing, cooking, and joinery from a recognised institution of training in Zambia is academically superior to any secondary education…”

    In my view, only if a grade 12 certificate or its equivalent is a minimum requirement to obtaining any of the above qualifications can they be said to be academically superior to a grade 12 certificate.

    You also seem to suggest that tertiary education & vocational training are in the same category. I doubt that. I know some tertiary education may include or involve vocational training but vocational training proper often stands independent of any academics.

    If your meat cutting certificate, diploma or degree was obtained without the need of a grade 12 certificate, I don’t see how you can claim equal academic status with a meat cutter who was required to produce a grade 12 certificate in order to obtain that meat cutting certificate.

    Any vocational training which does not require a grade 12 certificate cannot be equated to tertiary education. Neither can it be said to be academically superior to grade 12.

    In short, I’m not fully convinced vocational training acquired without the need of a grade 12 certificate or its equivalent as a minimum, can be said to be as academically the same as that requiring it.

  7. Thanks very much Elias. This is very insightful. I am happy you brought out the issues that have to do with trade certificates and so on. And I think we need to tweak (oh no we are late) the clause to include those with such certification.

  8. I attended the constitution conference that adopted this clause and yes there was a lot of debate on this clause but i think in the end adoption was unanimous. The reason is very simple, because of bad politics in our country, our institutions of peoples representatives have been compromised. Now the mistake we made was to treat the symptom rather than the cause. Lack of basic qualifications was thought to be the problem but it isnt. Some of our most
    educated people are a bigger nuisance in politics and unfortuately they use the very education that we are now flaunting as premium for these positions to justify their foolish actions.Sadly, a lot of provisions in tje constitution were adopted in similar fashion, to treat symptoms. Our constitution makig process is far from over as some of the symptoms are apparently endemic. It will be a long time before we have a satisfactory constitution.

Leave a Reply