In South Africa, the home school movement has only begun to develop. Under the previous government, officials continually harassed home schoolers, threatening them with arrest. Some families emigrated out of the country to school their children at home. Andre and Bokkie Mientjies started home schooling their children in 1991. On December 14, 1993, South African authorities sentenced the Mientjies to prison. Mr. Mientjies received a one year prison sentence, and Mrs. Mientjies received a two year prison sentence.
Meanwhile, the child welfare department removed their three children, who had been staying with their grandparents, and put them into a children's home. The home tried to force the children to go to a state school, but the children refused and stood with their parents. Officials then threatened to send the children to a reformatory.
Ann-Marie Wentzel, president of the Psychological Association of South Africa, said that these children "have been robbed of the chance to develop culturally and socially. To do that, they must be part of society." Another South African psychologist involved with the case said, "In this case, it looks as if the children have been indoctrinated by the parents with the distorted view of an unholy humanity. I believe it will take intense therapy to persuade them to try other options in life." A major magazine in South Africa called You also commented on the Mientjies: "Their religious beliefs say classrooms are no good, riddled with influences that taint young minds. But experts say children deprived of formal schooling fall far behind intellectually and might never catch up."
It is obvious that South Africa is just beginning to deal with the issue of home schooling. Like America 15-20 years ago, South Africa is very biased against parents who choose to teach their children at home.
Attorney Chris Klicka of the Home School Legal Defense Association contacted several South African leaders to address the plight of the Mientjies family. He also contacted the South African Embassy and prepared an alert concerning the Mientjies to be distributed around the country. The South African Embassy promised HSLDA that the matter would be investigated. In the meantime, many home schoolers contacted the South African Embassy on behalf of the Mientjies.
Authorities also investigated Graham and Alison Shortridge, longtime home school leaders in South Africa. They called the Shortridges to meet with the Minister of Education and Culture in Pretoria. Attorney Klicka quickly faxed a letter which was given to the Minister of Education, encouraging him to recognize the Shortridges' right to home school. The letter also made the Minister aware of the injustice done to the Mientjies. Chris Klicka pointed out that HSLDA had distributed a nationwide alert and said the United States was very disappointed with South Africa's harsh policy on home schooling. After meeting with the Shortridges and a representative from the Frontline Fellowship in South Africa and after reading the letter from Attorney Klicka, the South African official decided to postpone further action against the Shortridge family.
Locally, the Frontline Fellowship and the Shortridges organized a letter writing campaign to various South African officials on behalf of the Mientjies. Those efforts, combined with many letters generated in the United States to the South African Embassy, contributed to a miracle. Authorities released the Mientjies from prison and allowed them to return to their children. Attorney Klicka called the South African Embassy and thanked them for their efforts.
This provides a significant lesson to home schoolers in America. We can have an influence on foreign governments to make changes regarding home schooling.
Steering Committee Formed to Draft a Home School Law
South Africans elected a completely new Parliament during their first truly democratic elections held this year. Thus far the new government seems to be practicing tolerance and pragmatism, motivated by their dependence on U.S. aid and support during this transition.
Mr. Kenneth Meshoe, president of the African Christian Democratic Party and a member of Parliament, has organized a steering committee to draft legislation which would clearly legalize home schooling. The Shortridges have been asked to participate on the steering committee. Attorney Klicka of HSLDA was invited to submit language for the draft. Mr. Klicka sent members of the steering committee copies of studies illustrating the success of home schooling to be distributed to the entire Parliament. He also wrote an open letter to Parliament encouraging them to protect the fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children and to preserve the right of parents who choose to home school. Within the next few weeks the home school legislation should be drafted and subsequently debated in the South African Parliament.
Please pray for the many Christians in South Africa who are home schooling and those who want to home school. South Africa is in a very fragile transition period, but this may be the opportunity for citizens to gain long-denied freedoms, including the freedom to home school. Pray that God will bless these efforts and provide the protection and freedom to home school in South Africa.