Re-Evaluation of Religious and Cultural Symbols in Public Schools in South Africa: Emergence and Development of Legal Pluralism

By Christa Rautenbach.

Published by Journal of the World Universities Forum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

South Africa has in the past few years undergone (and is still in the process of undergoing) radical socio-political change. In times of change, things that were previously taken for granted suddenly become problematic. In a diverse society with persons and groups with different backgrounds, religions, cultures, preferences, customs and usages, the problems are more complex, because it cannot be assumed that the same values are shared by all sectors of society. Multi-culturalism is a reality in our schools, particularly in our public schools. Various problems may be experienced because of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds of learners. Recently the Equality Court (Pillay v MEC for Education, KwaZulu-Natal 2006 6 SA 363 (EqC)) held that the school's code of conduct prohibiting a Hindu learner to wear a nose stud to school boils down to unfair discrimination based on the grounds of religion and culture. The case is currently in the Constitutional Court for their judgement on the issue. Whatever the outcome of the case, it will have serious implications for all learners who want to wear religious and cultural symbols to school, for example the Catholic cross, Muslim headscarf, Hindu nose ring or Rastafarian dreadlocks. It would also be important for teachers to know what their position in terms of the wearing of cultural and religious symbols in the schools are. In this paper, I will discuss the influence or possible influence of multi-culturalism in the context of religious and cultural symbols in public schools. Secondly, I will elaborate on the court decisions dealing with the issue of religious and cultural symbols in public schools and, finally, I will comment on the emergence and growth of legal courses, such as legal pluralism, which can contribute to the debates pertaining to diversity and values, especially in the field of education law.

Keywords: Legal Pluralism, Religious Symbols, Cultural Symbols, Public Schools, Constitutional Law

Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.93-102. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 604.468KB).

Prof. Christa Rautenbach

Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus), Noordbrug, Northwest, South Africa

Christa Rautenbach spent fourteen years in the employ of the Department of Justice, during which period she was involved as a prosecutor. Although she is an academic scholar since 1994, she is still involved in the practical side of law as an advocate of the High Court of South Africa and Commissioner of the Small Claims Court of Potchefstroom. Her principal area of interest is the relationship between the state and unofficial legal orders, and she is co-editor and co-writer of a textbook "Introduction to Legal Pluralism in South Africa" published by Lexis Nexis Butterworths (2006). She is also co-writer of "Customary Law of Succession and Inheritance" in Joubert WA (ed) The Law of South Africa published by Lexis Nexis Butterworths (2004) 223-254. Her current topic of research is the influence of international agreements on cultural and religious minorities, especially their non-state law, in the domestic legal system of South Africa. Since 2006, she is a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany. She is currently the project leader of the Constitution and Law project funded by the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, and the project leader of a project entitled "Modern Day Impact of Religious Legal Systems in South Africa." She has published extensively on national and international level in this area of law, as well attended numerous national and international conferences where she delivered papers on related matters. She lectures in Legal Pluralism, Law of Succession and Administration of Estates and is the co-editor of the Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal. Since 2003, she is the treasurer of the Society of Law Teachers of Southern Africa. She is an evaluator of the National Research Foundation of South Africa and an evaluator of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.


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