Chief Mandla Mandela has called on the SANDF to stop what he called a “witchhunt” against Major Fatima Isaacs, over her refusal to remove her headscarf. On his Instagram page yesterday, Mandela said it was “inconceivable” that the SANDF would deny an employee the right to pursue her religious freedom to wear a headscarf.
On Tuesday, Isaacs was charged in a military court at the Castle of Good Hope for “willful defiance and disobeying a lawful command”. During her ten years of service, the forensic pathologist had been persistently asked to remove the scarf by her ranking officials, but remained steadfast. When she was slapped with a final written warning last week, she decided to defend her action and approach a labour consultant. Experienced labour advisor Nazeema Mohamed has taken on the case and with the assistance of the MJC, is appointing a legal team.
The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is sticking to its guns and has said it is governed by a strict dress code which regulates and dictates how the military uniform should be worn. In a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, the SANDF said its regulatory framework states that no clothing should be worn with official uniform, so all members are expected to conform to that.
However, sharp criticism has been levelled against the SANDF for its rigidness, as photos of Isaacs show the scarf is barely visible. The black scarf is wrapped tightly around her head and tucked neatly under her beret.
Mandela has vowed to escalate the matter to a government level.
“We call on the Minister to set aside this disciplinary action as it is an absolute denigration of her rights to exercise her religious freedom,” he said.
He has called on the larger interfaith community to come out in support and demonstrate outside the military court at Castle of Good Hope on 7 August where the disciplinary hearing will be held at 8.30am.
“We need to demonstrate against this obstinate course of action that not only violates her constitutional rights but insults our longstanding cultural tradition of tolerance, respect and social cohesion.” VOC