It is unconstitutional to promote or favour one religion over another

Published May 29, 2024


Critical theory argues that “in human affairs all facts are socially constructed, humanly determined and interpreted and, hence, the subject of change through human means” (R Gibson 1986).

What we have constructed can be unconstructed. As people, we need to learn to unlearn certain things in order to learn new things.

If we intend to realise decolonisation, we need to employ decoloniality in our approach. Decolonial approach refers to the methods that seek to disrupt the settler’s colonial logic of doing things. Decolonial approach further promotes the use of indigenous knowledge systems in solving problems.

In order to promote social cohesion and nation building, the Department of Basic Education has taken a courageous step and introduced progressive circular 4 of 2023.

The circular requires the recital of the preamble of the Constitution and singing of the South African and the AU anthems at all school assemblies and significant events. And it can be extended to take place before the commencement of the lessons on the first day of each school term.

The process has been promoted to the morning assembly early this year but it seems to be receiving resistance from school community stakeholders.

The anthems should also be sung in our indigenous languages, in line with 6(5) of the Constitution, in order to promote the development and equitable use of all languages and celebration of Africa Month as advocated by the Pan South African Language Board.

In our country, we are linguistically, culturally and psychologically behind achieving our indigenous sovereignty, irrespective of the provisions of our Constitution and related government policies. Our minds are colonised to the core, thus one of the founders of the Black Consciousness Movement, Steve Biko, was correct to say: “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

It’s a great move for the Values in Education Unit of the Department of Basic Education to introduce the recital of the Constitution preamble in assembly. Doing it in our indigenous languages makes it more decolonial and beautiful.

The school morning assembly is supposed to be an important feature, which remains essential and can solve and prevent many problems if used effectively. It is important because it fosters discipline, motivation, values and morals for educators, learners and everyone else in attendance.

It’s at morning assembly where we promote good practice by awarding best sports, cultural and academic achievers. We, as a school community, share information about important things. The Learners Representative Council members communicate with their constituency about their programmes and promote positive reinforcement of diversity through peer influence. Learners listen better when their peers talk to them about what affects them.

If the morning assembly could be used properly, there would be a lot of benefits for learners and educators, among them the development of a sense of belonging; promoting discipline and respect; encouraging participation in leadership; improving communication and public speaking for teachers and learners; and boosting confidence and self-esteem. All these can happen easily as long as the leadership of the school is visionary and understands how the school should be consciously run.

However, in our townships and rural schools, we dedicate the morning assembly to further indoctrinating our kids to accept Jesus. We speak about hell instead of giving proper talks that speak to the challenges that teenage girls and boys face daily.

When there is a challenge, we run to call pastors to come and offer prayers over even those things that do not need prayers. Prayers are the only problem-solving mechanism we trust.

When the pastors pray, the kids are triggered to fall and people become happy that the prayers are working instead of understanding that it is the disturbance of other people’s spiritual eloquence.

Therefore, morning assembly should not be used for promotion of religion. Schools can’t claim to be neutral transmitters of culture because the school culture is always one sided, biased towards the Western Christian approach.

When the Department of Basic Education Unit: Values in Education, encouraged implementing the recital of preamble of the Constitution at morning assembly early this year, it was met with resistance.

The people following Christianity in schools feel entitled during morning assemblies. Teachers who know not critical theory are the weapons of mass destructions unleashed on our children.

It is unconstitutional to promote, proselytise or favour one religion over the other.

Enock Shishenge is deputy chairperson of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Ivory Park Midrand branch) and the author of The Struggle of a Black Child. He writes in his personal capacity.