News / South Africa

Yadhana Jadoo
3 minute read
5 Jun 2017
3:42 pm

‘Cards for Muslims’ causes outrage at Joburg high school

Yadhana Jadoo

The school principal says this was the norm for years.

Picture: Northcliff High School website

A “concession card” required to be carried for Muslim pupils at Northcliff High School in Johannesburg has outraged a parent and child and caused a storm on social media.

But the school principal cited this as a requirement for any pupil who wishes to alter their school uniform for their own reasons. However, he has since backtracked on this position.

The 15-year-old Grade 10 pupil, who cannot be named, said she felt she was being oppressed upon being instructed to obtain the card allowing her to wear her scarf.

“The first thing that popped into my head was that it reminded me of carrying around a dompas during the apartheid era. It made me feel oppressed.

She added that while other learners “didn’t see it as a big deal” that a card needed to be carried, the school needed to add diversity and educate pupils about other religions.

“During assembly they would recite from the Bible, but why not from anything else, like the Quran, Torah or Bhagavad Gita?”

She added that the school’s decision to remove the system was only for those wearing headscarves, but should apply to anyone needing to wear an item for religious reasons.

“There are many other affected children, like Hindu children who wear a red string, and in African cultures they wear a band on their wrists.”

Her furious mother on Monday posted a picture showing that her daughter needed to carry the school’s concession card to wear her headscarf.

She likened this to carrying around the discriminatory dompas – required to be carried for black South Africans under apartheid law.

“Wtf our daughters must now carry concession cards to wear their head scarves at a public High School. How is this different from the Dompas Black South Africans had to carry in the past. #NorthCliffHigh I’m am not going to accept this,” the mother posted.

“Can we please help and advise as our girl wants take on this fight with our support,” she asked under the comments section.

 

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The concession card with the pupil's name blurred out.

The concession card with the pupil’s name blurred out.

School Headmaster Walter Essex-Clarke initially stated the concession card was a requirement not only for Muslim children attending the facility.

He told The Citizen that where parents had requested a variation in school uniform of any kind, a card was issued to children to “cut out the the admin” for any teacher querying the alteration of attire.

This included not having to shave or being allowed to grow long hair if required for a role in a play, for example.

“It could even be a request to wear takkies because of health reasons. We then grant permission,” Essex-Clarke said.

“It is not in our interests to discriminate against anyone. It is applied to all the children. If anybody is offended, let us know, and you won’t need the card.”

He said the concession card system had been used for years when it came to exceptions to the uniform.

He said that if parents were offended, or felt the card alienated their children, the school was willing engage with them to amend the requirement.

“If that’s how they feel, we are prepared to change anything going forward. It’s not our intention to offend anyone. We have a lovely group of kids here. I would like to sit and talk to the parents – they guide me.”

MEC Panyaza Lesufi said his department had contacted the principal who had subsequently agreed to withdraw the concession card.

The department explained to him “how negative and divisive it now reflects in the public eye”.

The South African Human Rights Commission said it would comment later.

The incident comes after the much-publicised Pretoria Girls High issue, where pupils were told to straighten their hair, as wearing natural hair or growing Afros was not allowed.

This resulted in protests at the school by pupils and members of the public, and a probe into the issue by the department, which found that worrying racial incidents had occurred at the school.