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Pupil denied entry to his school for wearing isiphandla

Yoliswa Sobuwa Journalist
A pastor says the bracelet worn by a 9-year-old 'brings a belief in ancestors, contradictory to our belief in Jesus'.
A pastor says the bracelet worn by a 9-year-old 'brings a belief in ancestors, contradictory to our belief in Jesus'.

A Christian school has barred a Grade 2 pupil from attending classes because he is wearing isiphandla (cultural bracelet made from animal skin).

The nine-year-old pupil at Christian Life Private School in Buccleuch, Johannesburg, was prevented from entering the school on Thursday and was sent home. Then his parents were slapped with a letter dated July 23, which Sowetan has seen.

The letter, written by pastor and board chairperson Lindsey Lefebure, reads: "It has come to our attention that (name of the child withheld) has been wearing isiphandla.

"Christian Life Private School does not allow the wearing of this band at school. It brings with it a belief in the protection of the ancestors which is contradictory to our belief in the blood of Jesus and His victory on the cross of Calvary.

"As a Christian school, we stand very strongly against all forms of spiritual connections, charms, rituals and devices for protection other than of Jesus and the Holy Spirit of God."

The boy's mother said she was shocked and disappointed by the school's actions.

"We went to Durban to hold a cultural ceremony for my child to be accepted by his father's ancestors a week ago. He was given isiphandla, which no one is allowed to remove but should break off on its own.

"On Wednesday, he went to school (for the first time, wearing it) and one of the teachers said he should wear a long sleeve (shirt or jersey) to hide it.

"On Thursday, his father took him to school and he found the school principal, Virginia Naidoo, waiting at the gate. She gave him a letter of suspension without even calling us as parents to engage on the issues," the mother said.

The letter further stated: "While we understand that some people view this as purely cultural it is in fact intertwined very deeply with the spirit realm as in direct contradiction to scripture and what God has asked of His people.

"The Bible has a negative view on necromancy or attempts to communicate with the dead. In fact, all contact with the spirit world is expressly forbidden irrespective of the nature of the spirits concerned. Yahweh abhors such practices because it denies Him as the sovereign create and living God."

The mother said the school's stance on the matter was disturbing. "I don't know which culture must he adapt to? Every child needs to know their origin. We are talking about culture, not a religion. We are also Christians but that does not mean we should ignore our culture.

"We did not sign anything that stipulated that our children should ignore their culture," she said, adding that had they known that the school was against their culture, they would not have enrolled him there.

The mother said the school did not even give her child learning material.

"He could not understand why he was not going to school on Friday. How do I explain to my child that his culture was not accepted at school?"

The school, however, sent another letter to the parents after they complained. In the letter, the school denied that the boy was on suspension but said he had been sent home because isiphandla was against their beliefs. They encouraged the parents to contact the school for further engagements on the matter.

It stated that they did not discriminate against any pupils.

They will meet via Zoom this morning (Monday).

Naidoo said she needed to consult with the school's board of directors before she could comment on the matter.

Part of the letter read: "We do hold and abide strongly to Christian beliefs and practices which are entrenched in our ethos and a statement of faith as laid down in our code of conduct.

"We emphasize our obligation to all parents and learners of our school to portray our religious claims at all times and we thank you for your understanding in this regard."

Gog' Phephsile Maseko, a traditional healer and national coordinator of the Traditional Healers Organisation, said: "I am wondering if they suspend children for wearing rosaries.

"We will set up an appointment with the school because they need to tell us if our lives don't matter. Being in a Christian school does not mean a black child does not have rights to their own beliefs."

Professor David Mosoma, chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, said schools should be a place to tolerate different cultures.

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