NNP Vows to Oppose Policy On Religion

The New National Party (NNP) felt so strongly about religion in schools that it was prepared to test the controversial new draft policy education directives of the education department in the Constitutional Court, said Juli Kilian, member of the Gauteng legislature and the party's provincial communications director.

Kilian said after the NNP's Gauteng Congress, held in Johannesburg on Saturday, that the NNP would also take the issue to the consultative forum with the African National Congress (ANC) for discussion, along with its proposals on a rural constabulary replacing the commando system.

An intense debate on religion in education was sparked recently when Education Minister Kader Asmal unveiled the new draft policy prepared by his department limiting religious practice at schools. It was one of the hottest debating points at the congress.

Kilian said the NNP believed the moves by the education department were unconstitutional and "we will push and keep pushing until they change it".

NNP leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk told the congress the first held in Gauteng since the NNP's withdrawal from the DA in November last year that the NNP was firmly committed to the protection and promotion of the basic human rights set out in the constitution, including the "critically important" right to the freedom of religious belief and expression.

"When the drafters of our constitution and the SA Schools Act formulated these protections, they specifically recognised how important it is for the observance of religion and the provision of religious education to receive the explicit protection of our highest law. The approach adopted by the education department seems therefore to undermine both the spirit and the letter of the constitution and the SA Schools Act," said Van Schalkwyk.

Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, attending an NNP congress for the first time, said constructive criticism by the NNP was important for the ANC. He said the agreement between the ANC and NNP was a long-term agreement and that those who expected the benefit of posts to flow from the agreement immediately were wrong.

"The posts will come as we develop and build on relationships," said Shilowa.