PRESS RELEASE: PRIVATE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS CASE HEADS TO COURT

by FOR SA
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

 

PRESS RELEASE

13 January 2022

For immediate distribution

Important case for private religious schools heads to Court

 On Wednesday, 19 January the Johannesburg High Court (sitting as an Equality Court) will hear the matter between Mthembu and Mthembu v Christian Life Private School & Others.  This case will decide whether private religious schools can require learners and parents to abide by their agreements to conform, and hold to, the school’s religious policies and rules.  Should the Court decide “no”, the case will have major ramifications for the autonomy of all private religious schools (whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc.) and their rights to establish admission and related policies specific to their faith, beliefs and ethos.

The case 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 is traditionally worn until it breaks off from the wrist.  The school argues that, because the wearing of an isiphandla is a religious practice and part of traditional African beliefs, it conflicts with the school’s Biblical ethos and beliefs.  The school temporarily sent the learner home, with learning material so that he could continue his studies, until the moment the bracelet fell off naturally as required by Zulu custom / belief. The learner’s parents then took the school to court, alleging the school unfairly discriminated against their son on grounds of culture.  They are asking the school to pay R300 000,00 in damages.  Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the matter.

“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 certain religious beliefs, practices, and ethos.  Parents, learners and staff join these schools precisely for this reason”, says FOR SA’s Executive Director, Michael Swain. “Should the Court decide against the school, it would set a dangerous precedent for all private religious schools in the country, who could then be forced to act against their religious convictions and beliefs.  This would completely undermine the very reason for these schools’ existence and goes directly against the constitutional right to establish and maintain private religious schools (section 29(3)) read with sections 15, 16 and 31 of the Constitution.”

The case is expected to be heard virtually.

ENDS

*Note:

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is a legal advocacy group mandated to protect and promote the constitutional rights of all South Africans, regardless of their specific religious or ideological beliefs.  FOR SA is therefore ideologically neutral and non-partisan in terms of any interpretation of doctrine, faith or belief to the extent that it complies with the rule of law.

*Disclaimer:

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) is a legal advocacy group mandated to protect and promote the constitutional rights of all South Africans, regardless of their specific religious or ideological beliefs.  FOR SA is therefore ideologically neutral and non-partisan in terms of any interpretation of doctrine, faith or belief to the extent that it complies with the rule of law.

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

 

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