Single religion schools unlawful
Court: One faith can’t be promoted over another
ALL SCHOOLS should embark on education processes to inform communities about the new policy on religion, assisted by the Department of Basic Education (DBE).
These were the strong views of Mahlomola Kekana, chairperson of the National Association of Parents in School Governance, while reacting to yesterday’s judgment in the high court in Joburg that no public school could adhere to and promote one single religion.
Kekana said the DBE should train all school governing bodies (SGBs) in order for this judgment to be implemented adequately and not adversely affect the different religions practised in schools.
“The process must be a consultation process; all stakeholders must be consulted. For example, if you have a Hindu or Christian pupil and there is assembly, you must give each domination at least five minutes each (for prayers).”
In handing down his ruling yesterday, Judge Willem van der Linde stated: “It is declared that it offends for a public school to promote or allow its staff to promote that it, as a public school, adheres to only one or predominately one religion to the exclusion of others, and to hold out that it promotes the interest of any one religion in favour of others.”
Kekana welcomed the ruling, saying his association had been advocating this standpoint, as South Africa was a diverse nation that should be allowed to interact in diversity.
He added that his organisation would play its part to ensure that the judgment was adhered to. “We have plans in place to assist in training governing bodies and we urge the DBE to follow suit.”
DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said in a statement that the department welcomed the judgment, saying the ruling was in line with the department’s own policies and the constitution, that no religion should be promoted above another.
“The aim is not to ban religious practices in schools, but it’s about protecting children and emphasising that schools should engage in religious education rather than religious instruction,” Mhlanga said, adding that no change would take place as a result of this judgment.
Ashwin Trikamjee, the president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, an organisation representing the aspirations of the Hindu community, said he hoped the judgment would end what he called discrimination against Hindi schoolchildren, which his organisation had had to deal with.
“The Hindu Maha Sabha has been receiving regular complaints about children going to schools (where they) are indoctrinated with these religions, and being told: ‘Our schools are Christian and if you don’t like it, then you can leave’,” Trikamjee said.
The Rev Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, was delighted that the court did not halt the teaching of the Bible in schools.
Kekana said the judgment should not affect the running of schools and that parents or guardians should familiarise themselves with all policies that are adopted at the various schools.
“The constitution, including the Bill of Rights and the Schools Act of 1996, make it clear that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”