Do strict school uniform policies enforce discrimination?

On Monday, Northcliff High School drew criticism when the public learned that it required students to carry a laminated card to show they had permission to deviate from their school uniform. The concessions card scandal drew immediate comparisons with apartheid’s dompas system. The Daily Vox asked people whether they think the school went too far in requiring students to get permission to wear religious attire, and if school uniforms are still necessary.

Lerato Manana, 33, fashion designer, Johannesburg
I feel like they’re discriminating. We have to respect everybody’s religious belief. We know Muslims have to wear their attire. Do we get permits to be Christians and be in school at the same time? It doesn’t make sense. As long as they wear the school uniform and wear the hijab, it shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s the same thing African kids were fighting for when they were told to plait their hair. They were saying no, let me comb my African hair and come to school.

I don’t like uniforms because it’s not who I am. I feel like people should express who they are through their dressing. And what if kids can’t afford that uniform? If there’s uniforms at schools, they should be given it for free. I didn’t want my mother to buy me school shoes. I wore the same ones from standard six until matric. For me it was a waste of money. If they want me to wear a school uniform and wear certain shoes they must buy those shoes for me.

Saber Mohamed, 42, store manager, Crosby
In South Africa, we have freedom of religion. We don’t have a problem with it, so I don’t get why the schools are having a problem with it. They shouldn’t. If a Muslim wants to go with her headscarf, or a mosque cap, or a beard – what is wrong with it? It’s school. I think what’s happening is a slap.

As far as I’m concerned a uniform is what we need, but not when it comes to being discriminated against Muslims, non-Muslims, Christians, whoever you are. A Jew wants to wear his hat to school, why discriminate against them? There’s nothing wrong with it. They’re just distinguishing themselves.

I went to a Muslim school in Durban so we had no issues there with race or religion. We were allowed to wear religious attire. That’s the thing I don’t get. At that time it was allowed and there were no problems at many of the schools.

Sandiso Ngubane, 29, musician, Johannesburg
What right do they have to be granting such permission to anyone to express their religion?

The schools should take it upon themselves to educate themselves about the various religions. In South Africa, we always pride ourselves about our progressive Constitution but in application it’s not happening, and that is because we don’t take the time to explore what being a diverse society means.

School uniforms enforce discrimination. I identify as non-binary, so if I was in school I would have to wear a boy’s uniform. I tend to blame it on missionaries and the indoctrination they brought in the colonial times. It’s those things that we need to start talking about if we accept that we are a pluralistic society.

Schools are too strict with their uniform. At school I didn’t know what non-binary is, I just knew that I didn’t fit in with the boys and the girls. As a child you just accept it. You are told this is what you have to wear and that’s what you wear.

Phumzile Hlongwane, 55, cleaner, Soweto
School uniforms are necessary so that you can see which school the child goes to. If they don’t wear uniforms, you can’t tell if they’re bunking school or not. I’m not so sure if schools are too strict with their uniform because I’ve always known that you wear a uniform to school.

Them wearing clothing that shows which belief they fall under is not a problem. It’s not right that we discriminate against them. No. Permission cards? For what? They’re part of South Africa, why must they carry cards?

Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity

Featured image via Flickr