Lerato Radebe, a Free State learner, with the support of Equal Education (EE), represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), will file an urgent application in the Free State High Court to ensure her return to school. Leseding Technical School has repeatedly discriminated against Lerato for practicing her faith by growing her hair in dreadlocks.
On 15 April 2013, Lehlohonolo Radebe contacted the EELC to request urgent intervention on behalf of his daughter, Lerato, a grade 8 learner at Leseding Technical School in Thabong, Welkom. Lerato is a Rastafarian and has dreadlocks because of her faith. From the beginning of this school year, Lerato has been dragged out of class repeatedly and humiliated by the principal for her dreadlocks. The school’s heavy-handed approach has culminated in the principal forcing her to remain in the school staff room, thereby causing Lerato to miss all her classes.
Lerato’s right to dignity, freedom of religion and basic education have been violated by the school. In addition, the frequent exclusions amounted to a violation of section 9(3) of the Constitution which prohibits unfair discrimination on the basis of religion, conscience, ethnicity, belief or culture. In its urgent application at the Free State High Court, the applicants will draw attention to the Free State Department of Education’s failure to intervene to ensure Lerato’s return to school as well as ask that the school and district receive education about learners’ cultural and religious rights and explain their error to the school community.
When the EELC brought this matter to the attention of the Free State Department of Education, the EELC received a response that indicated that the Department was of the opinion that Lerato’s Rastafarianism is not a sincerely held religious belief. It is uncertain how the Free State Department of Education came to this conclusion, as Lerato’s father has consistently sought assistance from every conceivable channel to ensure his daughter’s beliefs are respected.
EE and the EELC have facilitated the return of other Rastafarian learners who were unlawfully excluded from school in the Western Cape. The Western Cape Education Department have largely agreed that learners are not allowed to be excluded from class when they grow dreadlocks as part of their religious beliefs.
This was in line with the reasoning of the Constitutional Court in MEC for Education: KwaZulu-Natal and Others v Pillay that stated that schools must, where possible, accommodate learners’ sincerely held religious and cultural beliefs and practices.