UNDER SCRUTINY: University of Cape Town
Cape Town - UCT officials were locked in late discussions on Wednesday on how to deal with demands for the recognition of the religious holidays of different faiths when allowing students time off if they have to write tests or exams.

This came after students started a petition after a nasty incident between a lecturer and a student during Ramadaan this year.

Tanya Magaisa, one of the students behind the campaign, said it had been going for many years.

“The Hindu Student Society tried 10 years earlier, and the South African Union of Jewish Students almost made an attempt, about two years ago, if I’m not mistaken,” said Magaisa.

Aleya Banwari, former vice-chairperson of the Hindu Students Society, said the present UCT religious policy was unable to accommodate religious minorities and religions which may not follow a solar calendar.

“This means people of the Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish faith are often not accommodated when it comes to holy days clashing with exams. I am a Hindu, so there have been times when holy days fall on a test or an exam.

“For example, this year, Diwali is to fall on November 7, which is during exams. We are given the option to defer our exam, and to then write it in January, but this isn’t necessarily an option for all students. I think the biggest reason many Hindu students don’t want to defer is that they are not from Cape Town and thus deferring would mean they would have to come back to Cape Town earlier than anticipated, and pay for travel and accommodation to write their deferred,” says Banwari.

Zukiswa Jack, secretary of the students’ representative council, said: “We support the campaign because it is something that should have been implemented a long time ago.”

Aliyaah Vayez, a member of the Muslim Student Association, tried to assist the Muslim students who had to write exams/tests in June when Eid was being celebrated. However, it took her roughly four months to receive any support.

Shaykh Riad Fataar, of the Muslim Judicial Council, said a new proposal would give the university an opportunity to recognise where students had come from.

“The MJC will surely support such an initiative and we would congratulate the university if they respond to this,” says Fataar.

“The university has a Constitutional obligation to ensure its students are afforded the same kind of treatment and accommodation. Fundamentally, the issue is about fairness and the university upholding its mandate for inclusivity and transformation,” says Magaisa.

Elijah Moholola, spokesperson for UCT, said a meeting was scheduled for late Wednesday to discuss the religious holidays matter.

“As a result, we are unable to respond before then as whatever we say now might be overtaken by discussions by the time you publish tomorrow. I am unable to estimate the time by which the meeting is likely to end and, by extension, by when we are likely to respond,” he said.

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