Numerous incidents regarding the mismanagement of learners rights to freedom of religion have occurred in public schools in South Africa. South African school principals (managers) and their respective school governing bodies have been accused by parents, learners and educational authorities for violating learners constitutional rights to freedom of religion. Legal cases regarding such incidents have been brought to the attention of the Constitutional Courts of South Africa. The infamous case, Pillay v MEC for Education, KwaZulu-Natal 2006 6 SA363 (N) (Pillay High Court) is a prime example, whereby the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that schools, should consider an accommodation clause whereby parents and learners can request its implementation.
Based on the court s ruling, South African schools need to embrace and value that learners are now afforded with an opportunity to express their religious and cultural beliefs within a school environment that displays a society as visualised in the South African Constitution (Republic of South Africa, 1996a). Although the above case has set a definite benchmark which public schools can take cognisance of, the researcher has noticed that South African school principals and their respective school governing bodies are still struggling in managing different religious diversities within their school milieus. This statement is based on the fact that various media reports regarding the mismanagement of learners rights to freedom of religion have been brought to the attention of the media, irrespective that South Africa is a well-established democracy.
The researcher s interest was embedded in exploring effective ways in which school principals can manage the diversity of religions within their surrounding milieus and ultimately build a democratic school environment where learners from different religions can feel free and secure in having their beliefs, religion and culture recognised, respected and accommodated. The aim of this particular study was to investigate how principals manage the religious diversity of learners in their respective schools. The following objectives encapsulated this research:
? To determine the nature and essence of religious diversity in public schools;
? To determine the perceptions of school principals and SGBs regarding the management of religious diversity; and
? To provide guidelines to school managers and SGBs on how to manage religious diversity effectively in schools.
A qualitative approach was selected for this study. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with four school principals and their school governing body chairpersons in the Boksburg area of the province of Gauteng. Data collection methods consisted of individual one-to-one interviews conducted by the researcher in a location that was convenient and appropriate for each principal and chairperson. Document analysis was another method of data collection, which assisted the researcher in seeking whether documents complied to the South African Constitution (Republic of South Africa, 1996a) and whether religious policies of the sampled schools were formulated making use of the stipulations within the framework of the South African Constitution, South African Schools Act and the National Policy on Religion and Education. Document analysis also underpinned whether such policies made use of an accommodation clause whereby parents and learners could apply in order to have their religious beliefs acknowledged and accommodated.
From the research it emerged that school principals and their SGBs are indeed struggling in managing religious diversity within their respective school environments. It became apparent that principals lacked a clear understanding of the constitutional right to freedom of religion and implemented religious policies that contradicted the stipulations contained in the South African Constitution (Republic of South Africa, 1996a) as well as the provisions in the South African s Schools Act, (Republic of South Africa 1996b).