“ISIPHANDLA CASE” HEADS TO COURT

by Michael Swain
13 January 2022

*NOTIFICATION:  UPDATE ON “ISIPHANDLA CASE”

Pursuant to FOR SA’s Press Release below, the parties have been informed by the Deputy Judge President’s office that no judge has been allocated for the hearing of the matter on Wednesday, 19 January 2022.

Upon further enquiry to the Court, it appears that the non-allocation is due to non-compliance with certain court process and procedures, by the Applicant’s attorneys (acting for the parents in the matter).

In the circumstances, the matter has been removed from the roll and will not proceed this Wednesday.

For more information, contact:
Michael Swain
Executive Director, FOR SA
Email: michael.swain@forsa.org.za
Cell: 072 270 1217

On Wednesday, 19 January 2022, the Johannesburg High Court (sitting as an Equality Court) will have to decide whether private religious schools can require teachers, learners and parents – i.e. people who voluntarily choose to be part of the school and who have signed agreements to abide by its admission requirements, policies and religious ethos – to conform, and hold, to their rules and regulations.  Should the Court decide “no”, the case will have significant and serious ramifications for all private religious schools (whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other faith or belief).

The name of this case is Mthembu and Mthembu versus Christian Life Private School & Others and it concerns a private Christian school, which refused to allow a Zulu learner to attend school while wearing a traditional ceremonial goat-skin bracelet, called an isiphandla. This bracelet commemorates a ceremony which connects a young person to their ancestors, and it is traditionally worn until it breaks off from the wrist.  When this young learner returned to the school wearing an isiphandla bracelet, the school temporarily sent him home with learning material so that he could continue his studies, until the moment when the bracelet fell off naturally as required by Zulu custom / belief.

One of the principal reasons why the school took the decision it did, is because the wearing of an isiphandla is a religious practice and part of traditional African beliefs, which are in conflict with the school’s Biblical ethos and beliefs as agreed to by the parents upon admission. However, the learner’s parents decided to take the school to court, alleging the school unfairly discriminated against their son on grounds of culture in terms of PEPUDA, also known as the Equality Act.  They are asking the school to pay R300 000,00 in damages.

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is involved in this case as a “friend of the Court”, to protect the religious freedom rights of private religious schools. It is important to understand that although wearing an isiphandla would certainly be allowed in public schools, private religious schools are very different because they are specifically established to provide education within the context of religious belief, practice and ethos.  Parents, learners and staff join these schools precisely for this reason”.

Should the Court decide against the school, it could set an incredibly dangerous precedent.  It could mean that all private religious schools in the country could then be forced to act against their religious convictions and beliefs. Not only would this completely undermine the very reason for their existence, but it would also negate their constitutional rights to establish and maintain private religious schools in terms of section 29(3), read together with sections 15, 16 and 31, of the Constitution.”

The case is expected to be heard virtually, and FOR SA will continue to keep you up to date as the case develops.

 

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