On Friday, 10 May 2013, the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) filed an urgent application in the Free State High Court on behalf of Lerato Radebe, a 13-year old Grade 8 learner. Lerato is bringing the application together with her parents and with the support of Equal Education (EE). The application is being brought against the Free State Education Department and Lerato’s school, Leseding Technical High, for the blatant and perverse violation of Lerato’s right to freedom of religion and a basic education. The application will be heard on Friday, 17 May 2013.
Lerato is a Rastafarian and has dreadlocks because of her faith. Since the beginning the year she has been dragged out of class repeatedly and humiliated by the principal because of her hair. The school’s heavy-handed approach has culminated in the principal forcing her to remain in the school staff room during the day, 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, belief or culture. The extent of the discrimination has been chronicled in Lerato’s founding affidavit [PDF] and her father’s founding affidavit [PDF] and supplementary affidavit [PDF].
The Department has refused to ensure that Lerato is allowed back into class. Instead, they have attempted to unlawfully transfer her to a different school. Then yesterday, in a dramatic turn of events, the Head of Department (HOD) sent a letter to Lerato’s father, Lehlohonolo Radebe, threatening to have him arrested unless he accepts the transfer to either Thotagauta or Unitas Secondary [goo.gl/qWbi8].
The threat from the HOD is said to be based on section 3 of the South African Schools Act, which provides that preventing a child from attending school is a criminal offence. This is despite Lerato’s father diligently ensuring that his child attends school, only for her to be forced to sit in the staff room every day.
During the family’s efforts to secure Lerato’s return to class, they consulted with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The Chairperson of the SAHRC, Mabedle Mushwana, has signed an affidavit indicating that the Commission fully supports the Radebe family and EE’s court application. The applicants will ask the Court to declare that there has been a violation of Lerato’s constitutional rights, and to order that Lerato be allowed to return to class immediately and that the respondents make an apology to her. They will also ask that the principal, school governing body, and education district officials in the Lijweleputswa District participate wholeheartedly in an education and relationship building workshop to be provided by the SAHRC. In its affidavit, the Commission states that it is ‘ready, willing, and able’ to carry out such training [PDF].
For comment please contact
Lisa Draga (EE Law Centre Attorney) on 072 650 0214/ 021 461 6582
Dmitri Holtzman (EE Law Centre Executive Director) on 082 733 5000/ 021 461 6582