Back and forth arguments have been made, and serious allegations have been thrown, after Muslim parents at the Western Cape Sports School came to loggerheads with the school’s new catering company and governing body over concerns around halal certification. A recent change in the school’s catering has seen the new caterer lacking formal halal certification, to the dismay of some. Parents who have taken the issue up have now approached the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) as well as the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), arguing that the rights of Muslim learners at the school are being violated.
Spokesperson for concerned parents of learners at the school, Nadia Mayman De Grass argues that there was a lack of consultation in the change and that many at the school were unaware of the change being to a caterer that was not halal certified.
“A person at the school alerted me to the fact that there’s a new caterer… then I told my son to make sure that the caterer is halal before he takes another meal. It was at that point that the manager in the kitchen told my son ‘This wasn’t a problem since 1 October [when the caterer took over the kitchen and everyone was eating without concern] so why should it be a problem now?’,” said Mayman De Grass.
“I believe there were discussions with parents about the change of caterers, but at no point in time were we made aware that the caterer would take occupation of the kitchen from 1 October. More importantly, we were not informed that the caterer was not halal certified. When I started making inquiries, the caterer told me that he’s in the process [of receiving halal certification] and that their application is pending… they informed me that they have proof of application made to the Islamic Council of South Africa (ICSA) at the time.”
However, upon asking to see the proof, nothing was presented according to Mayman De Grass.
“We also have an email that states that the application is being processed and is pending. However, when I called ICSA, we learned that there was only an inquiry made with regard to the cost for halal certification and that no actual application had been made at the time.”
Despite the vociferous arguments made by concerned parents against the change, Mayman De Grass acknowledged that alternative arrangements have been made until the new caterer is halal certified.
The chairperson of the Western Cape Sport School’s governing body, James Ketelo says that there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
“People might think it’s just governance or operational matters going wrong… This is a political matter,” he said.
Ketelo argues that there is a history of deep-rooted corruption and financial mismanagement at the school, which has now [at least in part] brought about the apparent halal certification scandal. He also suggested that fuel to the fire of outrage against the caterer’s occupation of the kitchen and lack of certification is due to the company being under black ownership.
He explained that the previous caterer similarly lacked halal certification [on display at the school] and that although the previous caterer was eventually forced to display that certification, a scandal like this never arose.
He feels that the current caterer is being afforded the same opportunities as the previous one and therefore questions why these issues are only being brought up so passionately now.
“The principal requested that the caterer complies [with halal standards] – which they did. They are not cooking anything unhalal in the kitchen. Never,” said Ketelo.
Ketelo further indicated that there was an agreement between the school and the new caterer which stipulated that the caterer would only have halal stock in the kitchen and that everything related to anything unhalal be removed from the menu.
Elaborating on what he felt was a lack of consistency from parents with regard to the treatment of caterers, Ketelo said that a time frame [for halal certification] has been established and that the school needs to accommodate the new caterer in the same manner in which they accommodated the previous caterer – who had the same issues but never faced objections, according to Ketelo.
Mayman De Grass, however, argues that the situations are not the same and that the previous caterer was able to display proof of halal certification two days after an inquiry was made.
“Our kids’ rights have been violated and because the school’s governing body is so unapologetic, we will not let this matter rest…The SAHRC and the WCED have been contacted concerning this matter,” she said.