‘Schools should stop targeting Muslim pupils over beards – constitution is clear’

By Al Qalam Reporter

Social activist Yusuf Abramjee says schools should stop targeting Muslims students for keeping beards because our constitution is clear – they are allowed to do so on religious grounds.

It’s time schools, both public and private, stopped targeting Muslim students. Our Constitution is clear!, Abramjee told Al Qalam in a statement.

Abramjee took up the issue with Enver Surtee, Deputy Minister in the Department of Basic Education (DBE, after a parent reported to him that the Aston International College (Benoni branch) was pressuring the 13-year-old pupil to remove his beard.

Following his intervention in the matter, representatives from the Gauteng Department of Education paid a visit to the school on Tuesday and he is awaiting a feedback from them. “I am waiting for a feedback from them,” he told Al Qalam.

In a statement to the Star newspaper, Mark Brown, the college’s executive director, stressed that the school was Christian and private.

“They (parents) accept, sign and agree to our school ethos and code of conduct voluntarily before their child is registered at Ashton International College.

“While Christian, our school is multicultural, in that students of all faiths are welcomed, and all our students adhere to the same uniform and code of conduct requirements,” Brown said.

Advocate C. Ledwaba, representing the Department of Basic Education (DBE) replied to Abramjee regarding his query as to whether Muslim students were allowed to grow beards at schools.

Ledwaba advised that In compliance to the Constitution and Case law, the College cannot prohibit a learner from practicing and observing a religion of their choice. “Ashton College cannot determine a code of conduct in conflict with the above authority,” he added.

“The advice to both Ashton College and Mr *** is to heed the words of O’REGAN J in the Pillay matter which read as follows: “It needs to be emphasised however, that the strength of our schools will be enhanced only if parents, learners and teachers accept that we all own our public schools and that we should all take responsibility for their continued growth and success. Where possible processes should be available in schools for the resolution of disputes, and all engaged in such conflict should do so with civility and courtesy.”Here is the full opinion as received from the department.”

Advocate Ledwaba further wrote: “Kindly be informed that in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, (section 15 of the Bill of Rights) affords everyone with the right to freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion.

“To further realise the constitutional mandate, section 7 of the South African Schools Act, 1996 (Act No. 84 of 1996 (the SASA) provides for freedom of conscience and religion at public schools. It provides the following-
“Subject to the Constitution and any applicable provincial law, religious observances may be conducted at a public school under rules issued by the governing body if such observances are conducted on an equitable basis and attendance at them by learners and members of staff is free and voluntary.”

The above provision should be read in the context of the entire education jurisprudence and not in isolation. This provision also applies to independent schools. One of the primary requirements for registration of an independent school as contemplated in section 46 amongst others is that-
(3) A Head of Department must register an independent school if he or she is satisfied that—
(a) the standards to be maintained by such school will not be inferior to the standards in comparable public schools; (b)…..(c)……

“Section 7 has laid a standard pertaining to religious observance in schools and it is enforceable to both public and independent schools. To further provide clarity on this matter, one must not lose sight of the fact that the constitution applies both horizontal as against private institution and vertically against state organs. Independent schools are not exempted from complying with Chapter 2 of the Constitution and the department has a responsibility to respect, protect and promote it.”

Mettle Administrative Services

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