Chapter 4



4.10.1Legislative and Policy Framework


  • The National Education Policy Act, 1996 (Act No. 27 of 1996) (Section 3(4)(l) [NEPA
  • The South African Schools Act, No. 84 of 1996 (Section 7) [SASA] 



  • National Policy on Religion and Education (Government Gazette 25459, 12 September 2003) NP 25459/2003]
  • National Policy for Determining School Calendars for Public School in South Africa (Government Gazette 38330, 30 January 2015) [NP CAL]

4.10.2Framework for the Development of School Policy on Freedom of Conscience and Religion

  1. Section 7 of SASA determines as follows: Subject to the Constitution and any applicable provincial law, religious observances may be conducted at a public school under rules issued by the governing body if such observances are conducted on an equitable basis and attendance at them by learners and members of staff is free and voluntary.
  2. The National Policy on Religion and Education issued in terms of NEPA Section 3(4)(l), covers the different aspects of Religion Education, Religious Instruction, Religious Studies and Religious Observances. The status of these concepts in terms of the policy is as follows:
    Concept Definition Status
    Religion Education A curriculum with clear educational aims and objectives for teaching about religion and religious diversity in South Africa and the world. Part of Life Skills/ Life Orientation in the National Curriculum
    State­ment (NCS) and therefore compulsory for all learners
    Religious Instruction Instruction in a particular faith or belief, with a view to inculcate adherence to that faith or belief. Schools are not allowed to offer Religious Instruction as part of the formal school programme, but are encouraged to allow religious groups to use the school facilities to provide Religious Instruction outside the formal school curriculum. Such opportunities must be afforded in an equitable manner to all religious bodies represented in the school.
    Religious Studies A specialised subject which was intended as an optional and examinable subject for Gr 10 – 12. Not yet included as a subject in any of the grades.
    Religious Observances The policy specifies four types:
    1. Voluntary public occasion for a religi­ous services on a day of worship or rest. Encouraged by policy, but not as part of the official function of the school.
    2. Voluntary occasions when teachers and learners gather for a religious observance, e.g. during assembly. If part of the school day, it must accommodate and reflect the multi-religious nature of South Africa, e.g. –

    • Separation of learners according to religion if the observance takes place outside the context of assembly;
    • Rotation of opportunities for observance in proportion to the representation of different religions in the school;
    • Selected readings from various texts emanating from different religions;
    • A universal prayer;
    • A period of silence.

    Religious uniformity may not be imposed on the teachers and learners. If observance forms part of assembly, learners may be excused on grounds of conscience and equitable arrangements must be made for them.

    3. Voluntary gathering of learners and/or teachers during a school break.
    4. Ongoing and entailing other dimensions such as dress, prayer times and diets. Must be respected and accommodated in a manner agreed upon by the school and relevant faith authorities.
  3. The National Policy for designing school calendars for ordinary public schools in South Africa (4.10.1 above) in Par. 3.1.7 determines as follows:
    • The School Governing Body of a school may exercise the right to close for religious commemorations where the majority of learners are members of the faith in question.
    • The number of days may not exceed two days and must be taken in lieu of the two days allocated for Sport and Culture (See National Policy for Determining School Calendars for Public School in South Africa)
    • The SGB must make application to the Head of Department to exercise this option and must give details concerning the size (numbers and percentage) of the religious majority and the days applied for.
    • Members of world religions that form a minority of learners in a school may be given permission to take recognised religious days off school. Learners should not be marked absent for the days in question. Examinations or tests should not be administered on days that they are absent.
    • Teachers are obliged to request for leave except where the schools are closed on the basis of an application from the SGB as explained above.
  4. The SAOU circulated a National Newletter 5/2017 and National Newsletter 8/2017 on Religious Observances in Schools


Login with your email address and password or register online