Traditional leaders fume after Joburg school rejects pupil wearing isiphandla

29 July 2020 - 20:41 By Naledi Shange
The National House of Traditional Leaders has called for tolerance of SA's diverse cultures and traditions.
The National House of Traditional Leaders has called for tolerance of SA's diverse cultures and traditions.
Image: Gallo Images

The National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) on Wednesday expressed outrage after a Johannesburg Christian school reportedly barred a nine-year-old grade 2 child from entering the premises because he was wearing a cultural bracelet.

The bracelet, isiphandla, is made from animal skin and is worn until it breaks off from the wrist.

The traditional leaders said schools and other public institutions should accommodate and show tolerance of SA's cultural diversity.

“South Africa is a multicultural and multiracial society, hence we advocate for the respect of all cultures in the republic,” said the group.

“On behalf of all traditional leaders in the country, the NHTL condemns in the strongest terms any form of discrimination, particularly on the basis of cultures.

“We hereon further express utter dismay and rejection of any form of encroachment by any institutions on cultural practices and beliefs of Africans. Any form of prejudice, particularly in respect of African cultures, is an antithesis of our founding tenets as a constitutional democracy and must be condemned with the abhorrence it deserves.”

Sowetan reported that the child was sent home by the Christian Life Private School in Buccleuch last Thursday.

Parts of a letter the child was sent home with, written by pastor and board chairperson Lindsey Lefebure, read: “Christian Life Private School does not allow the wearing of this band at school. It brings with it a belief in the protection of the ancestors, which is contradictory to our belief in the blood of Jesus and His victory on the cross of Calvary.

“As a Christian school, we stand very strongly against all forms of spiritual connections, charms, rituals and devices for protection other than of Jesus and the Holy Spirit of God”.

The boy's mother said she was shocked and disappointed by the school's actions.

“We went to Durban to hold a cultural ceremony for my child to be accepted by his father's ancestors a week ago. He was given isiphandla, which no-one is allowed to remove but [which] should break off on its own,” she said.

“On Wednesday, he went to school [wearing it for the first time] and one of the teachers said he should wear a long-sleeve [shirt or jersey] to hide it.

“On Thursday, his father took him to school and he found the school principal, Virginia Naidoo, waiting at the gate. She gave him a letter of suspension without even calling us as parents to engage on the issues.”

'A negative view on necromancy'

The letter further states: “While we understand that some people view this as purely cultural, it is in fact intertwined very deeply with the spirit realm as in direct contradiction to scripture and what God has asked of His people.

“The Bible has a negative view on necromancy or attempts to communicate with the dead. In fact, all contact with the spirit world is expressly forbidden irrespective of the nature of the spirits concerned. Yahweh abhors such practices because it denies Him as the sovereign create and living God.”

The mother said the school's stance was disturbing.

“I don't know which culture must he adapt to? Every child needs to know their origin. We are talking about culture, not a religion. We are also Christians but that does not mean we should ignore our culture.

“We did not sign anything that stipulated that our children should ignore their culture,” she said, adding that had they known that the school was against their culture, they would not have enrolled their child there.

Gogo Phephisile Maseko, a traditional healer and national coordinator of the Traditional Healers' Organisation, said: “I am wondering if they suspend children for wearing rosaries ... Being in a Christian school does not mean a black child does not have rights to their own beliefs.”

Prof David Mosoma, chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, said schools should be a place to tolerate different cultures.

On Wednesday, Sowetan reported that the child had been allowed back to school following intervention by the Gauteng education department.

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