Schools want right to religion

Cape Town - There is a strong feeling among Cape Town school principals that school governing bodies should be free to deal with the issue of religion at their schools, Western Cape Premier Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Tuesday.

Speaking after meeting 22 principals at the provincial legislature, he said there was a unanimous viewpoint of principals that "we shouldn't try to fix what is not broken ... but trust governing bodies at the schools to deal with this".

The meeting focused on two issues relating to religion at schools, namely religious education and religious observance, particularly in view of the national education department's decision to review them, he said.

Earlier this month, Education Minister Kader Asmal said his department's draft policy on religion in education was expected to be finalised at the next council of education ministers (CEM) meeting in June.

A special committee was set up last year to advise Asmal on religion in education.

Part of its brief is to give him input on the conduct of school assemblies, and monitor the quality of religious education in schools.

The committee is chaired by an administrator in the Uniting Reformed Church, Dr Dan Maluleke.

Van Schalkwyk said the provincial government would strongly oppose any attempt to dilute the constitutional right to religious instruction at schools.

Western Cape provincial education MEC Andre Gaum said the matter of religion at schools had not been finalised yet because of pressures and concerns raised about its implementation.

Gaum said the whole matter was approached in the wrong manner and the national education department should not prescribe the rules in detail.

He said the South African Schools Act clearly stated that school governing bodies should deal with religion at schools.

Panaroma Primary School principal Carl Zimmermann said principals were not there to "fight for Christianity" but rather wanted to ensure all religions were represented at schools.

He said, and this viewpoint was echoed by other principals present, that in a bid to accommodate all religions for example, an imam or pastor could be called in to give specific religious instruction to those in the religious minority.