Representatives from Equal Education (EE), the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) met with the Free State MEC of Education, Mr Tate Makgoe, last week to discuss the recent Free State High Court decision of Lerato Radebe & Others v Principal of Leseding Technical High School & Others.
The decision ensured that 13 year old Rastafarian learner Lerato Radebe could return to school after being unlawfully excluded for months because she refused to cut her dreadlocks. Acting Judge Phalatsi in his judgment stated that he “would appeal to the respondents and the powers that be, to educate and make our people aware of the importance and advantages of accepting religious diversity”.
At the meeting, called by MEC Makgoe in response to the judgment, EE and EELC expressed their concern about problematic school governing body policies that sanction unfair discrimination against learners. The two NGOs suggested constructive ways that the Free State Department of Education (FSDOE) can foster an understanding amongst all schools, principals and education district officials that they have an obligation to respect learners’ constitutional rights. EE & EELC also pointed out that there was nothing objectionable about learners wearing dreadlocks whether for religious purposes, African traditional purposes or simply as a personal choice. Dreadlocks do not detract from the need to establish discipline at schools.
MEC Makgoe made an unequivocal undertaking to respond to the problems highlighted by the judgment by conducting educational awareness workshops with all education districts within the Province. District management and school principals will participate in these workshops which will teach participants about the latest legal and policy developments regarding learners’ rights, including the Radebe decision. These educational training sessions will highlight as unacceptable any form of racial discrimination, or gender discrimination such as discrimination against pregnant learners in schools.
EE and EELC look forward to working together with the FSDOE to eliminate prejudice and unfair discrimination in Free StateSchools.