Two KwaZulu-Natal teens say they are being excluded from school because they refuse to cut their hair for religious reasons.
They follow the Nazareth Baptist Church, or Shembe faith, which stipulates that a man’s strength is in his hair and it cannot be cut.
The case is similar to that of Grade 8 Cape Town pupil Azania Stofile, a Rastafarian, who was stopped from starting high school last month when teachers demanded he cut off his dreadlocks.
He was eventually allowed back and to keep his hair when the provincial education department became involved.
Nkululeko Mahashi, 19, and Lindokuhle Mhlambi, 18, are in Grade 9 at Osizweni High School in Newcastle.
They were kicked out of school last week. They say their afros have never been an issue but this year a specific teacher targeted them, telling them to cut their hair, or leave school.
Their parents and a Shembe priest have intervened and had a meeting with the principal who accepted their reasoning but the teacher still objected.
It was agreed that, provided the boys kept their hair combed and neat, they would be allowed back in class.
But Lindokuhle said the teacher concerned would not allow him at the school.
“When I started attending class again last Tuesday, the other teachers were fine. But on Thursday, when the teacher returned, he demanded I leave and took my books and stationery”.
Lindokuhle’s father, Jabulani Nkosi, said he would never allow his son to cut hair.
“Lindokuhle is old now, he can look after himself, he knows how to keep his hair clean. I can’t do what is against our religion. As long as the constitution recognises and promotes religious tolerance, we cannot allow him to be bullied by one teacher. What angers me is that the principal is understanding but he allows a teacher to make his own rules.”
Nkululeko said: “I grew up in the Nazareth Baptist Church. At home we follow and respect our religion and that is why I cannot cut my hair but this teacher doesn’t understand our religion.
“After the meeting we were allowed back at school and he was absent for two days, but, when he came back, he didn’t even want to look at me. He even took all my textbooks and chased me out of the class,” Nkululeko said.
He lives with his disabled father, Michael Mahashi, and two unemployed sisters. His mother died in 2001.
Mahashi said it broke his heart to see his son at home because he was his only hope to make their lives better.
“I can’t go everywhere. I use a wheelchair, my kids depend on my disability grant, life is bad but we live by God’s grace. We have never abandoned our religion. I want Nkululeko to study and to be a better person, he can’t stay at home. I wish teachers could understand and respect everyone’s religion.”
Priest Siboniso Masondo of the Bongumusa Temple in Newcastle has been helping the parents by negotiating with the principal and teachers. “I am disappointed at what this teacher is doing, it shows he hates the Nazareth religion. .
Department of Education spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said:
“The department has no other policy above the constitution which promotes religious tolerance. The principal was right when he allowed the pupils to return, he is the head and can’t be ruled by a teacher. We will request that the district office investigate.”