Pupils should not be discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs, the KwaZulu-Natal education department said after reports emerged on Thursday that a Muslim learner at a Durban school was asked to shave off his beard.
"Yes, I can confirm this and we as a department in KZN are not going to tolerate any person who is going to misrepresent what we stand for," spokesman Kwazi Mthethwa told TimesLIVE. "We do not discriminate against any learner who belongs to any religious formation. All children are protected by the constitution and are entitled to an education."
The Post newspaper reported that the incident took place at a high school in Phoenix and involved a grade 11 learner. The boy’s mother told the newspaper that her son was asked to shave off his beard – which he had been growing for religious purposes – or go to a Muslim school.
She said her son was being continuously harassed by the principal, and that a teacher had even asked the 17-year-old boy if he was going to become a moulana.
She reported the matter to the department and was not prepared to change her son's school or back down without a fight.
"They need to be accountable. We are working parents and our children go to school to learn. If I change my son's school, what happens to the other Muslim children?" she was quoted as telling the Post. "My husband and I have had numerous meetings with the principal over this issue and it cannot be resolved. I think the department needs to intervene."
Mthethwa said the department was in contact with the school through its circuit manager.
"The boy should return to class. I told the parents to take him back. As we speak, the learner should be in class," he said.