Equal Education shocked at school suspending Rastafarian Learner in direct contravention of the Constitution and a ruling by the Constitutional Court, while officials of the WCED are complicit despite numerous appeals for their assistance.
Joe Slovo Engineering High School in Khayelitsha unlawfully suspends grade 8 Rastafarian learner for contravening the schools’ regulations on hairstyle. Worse still, the Western Cape Education Department officials have been aware of this, including at the MEC’s office. A WCED district official participated in the disciplinary hearing which resulted in the unlawful decision to suspend the learner.
Equal Education is astounded at the outcome of a School Governing Body (Joe Slovo Engineering School) decision to suspend a Rastafarian learner because he has refused to cut his dreadlocks. Odwa Sityata (15) was suspended from school for seven days following a disciplinary hearing on Monday 28 February. Sityata was brought up by Rastafarians and has been growing his hair in dreadlocks, as is central to the faith, since a young age. Odwa has attended school at Joe Slovo Engineering School since the beginning of 2010.
In the week of the 15 February 2011, Equal Education was approached by Sindiswa Sityata (Odwa’s mother) for assistance after her son had been instructed by the Principal of Joe Slovo to leave school and to return once, and only if, he cut off his dreadlocks. The principal told Odwa that the school regulations on hair was that male learners’ hair must be short and that braids are not permitted. Both Odwa and his mother have explained to the Principal that, as part of Odwa’s faith, he is required to grow his hair in dreadlocks and that his faith does not permit him to cut his hair. The school nevertheless instructed Odwa that he would not be allowed to continue attending the school unless he cut his hair.
The law is clear about schools’ uniform and code of conducts needing to respect and tolerate religious practices:
- The Constitution expressly protects everybody’s right to freedom of religion as well as the right to practice their religion. Further, and the Constitutional Court has (in the Prince case) specifically provided that the Rastafarian religion is protected by the Constitution; and that the right to freedom of religion includes the right to: (a) have a belief (b) to express that belief publicly, and (c) to manifest that belief by worship and practice etc.
- The Constitution protects everybody against unfair discrimination on the basis of religion – s9(4).
- The Constitutional Court, in the Pillay case, held that school rules that prohibit the expression of religious or cultural practices without the possibility of an exemption may amount to unfair discrimination. In his judgement, the former Chief Justice Pius Langa had this to say :
“It is worthwhile to explain … for the benefit of all schools, what the effect of this judgment is, and what it is not. It does not abolish school uniforms; it only requires that, as a general rule, schools make exemptions for sincerely held religious and cultural beliefs and practices.”
- Further, the National Guidelines on School Uniforms also provides that school uniform rules should take into account religious and cultural diversity. S29 (2) provides that: “If wearing of a particular attire…is part of the religious practice of learners or an obligation, schools should not, in terms of the Constitution, prohibit the wearing of such items.” Here the same should be applied to dreadlocks as part of the Rastafarian religion.
It is without doubt that Odwa Sityata has been unfairly discriminated against by the principal and the School Governing Body of Joe Slovo High School. During the disciplinary hearing and in Odwa’s defence, the law was clearly explained to the disciplinary committee. However, the SGB chose to deliberately ignore the law and to nevertheless suspend Odwa from school for seven days, with immediate effect and further advised him to cut his dreadlocks in the meantime.
Odwa and his mother, together with the assistance of Equal Education have now secured legal representation and have demanded that the decision to suspend him be reversed and that the school assists him in catching up the work that he has missed. The school has until the end of today to respond accordingly failing which urgent court action will be instituted immediately against the school and the WCED.
The failure of the WCED to protect the learner’s rights
Through the unlawful and unconstitutional conduct of Joe Slovo High School, Odwa’s rights to dignity, equality, freedom of religion, and his right to a basic education have been violated. This has occurred while the WCED has had full knowledge of the issue and was in fact asked for assistance. The failure to adequately intervene is a serious indictment on the Department and smacks of a complete lack of appreciation of the vulnerability of poor and working class learners in the province. The WCED had a responsibility to ensure that Joe Slovo High School, which is a public school, acts in accordance with the Constitution and the law. Instead, the officials that have been aware of this matter, and one which was in fact participated in the “disciplinary hearing” have allowed for the continued violation of the constitutional rights of Odwa Sityata.
We demand an answer from MEC for Education in the Western Cape, Donald Grant as to why the WCED has sat on its hands and allowed the violation of the rights of this learner!
We also demand that the WCED sends a clear message to all schools about what the law says about school rules and how they must consider and respect religious and cultural practices!
For more information contact:
Dmitri Holtzman: firstname.lastname@example.org 021 387 0022/0023 or 082 733 5000
Yoliswa Dwane: email@example.com 387 0022