About turn on hijab policy by the SANDF


Muslims in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) may in future be allowed to wear the hijab.

This is clarified in a statement issued by Department of Defence (DoD) head of communication Siphiwe Dlamini this week. It stems from an incident more than two months ago at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg, Cape Town, when an SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) officer, Fatima Isaacs, was apparently told she was not allowed to wear a hijab while in uniform.

Hijab is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the traditional covering for the hair and neck worn by Muslim women”.

She appeared before a military court and was to face a disciplinary hearing this month (August). IOL reports the case was postponed until 6 November. Isaacs, a clinical forensic pathologist and member of the SANDF for the past ten years, appeared before Military Judge Willem Venter at the military court at the Castle of Good Hope on 7 August.

Isaacs told the court she changed her representation and needed extra time, which the prosecutor agreed to. According to IOL, she continues to wear her headscarf under her uniform. Isaacs is accused of “wilful defiance and disobeying a lawful command” by refusing to remove her headscarf.

According to the DoD statement Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula asked SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke to “find an amicable solution” when she addressed the National Assembly in support of the defence budget in mid-July.

This, Dlamini said in the statement, saw engagements between the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and the Chaplaincy of the SANDF.

“A determination is under consideration to grant interim relief to women serving in the SANDF to wear an under scarf in conformity with SANDF dress code, while the process of shaping the policy is undertaken.

“The interim measure to grant relief has been ratified by the Military Command Council (MCC) which welcomed a presentation on this matter from the SANDF Chaplain General, Major General Monwabisi Jamangile.

“An instruction to effect this ratification is being developed,” the statement reads adding “the judicial process is a separate matter, as it is before court and cannot be interfered with”.

Previously Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, SANDF Director: Corporate Communication, said the national defence force was “governed by prescripts and dress codes which regulate and dictate how SANDF uniform should be worn. The regulatory framework clearly stipulates no other clothing should be worn with official uniform, representative of the SANDF as a military institution. Members are expected to confirm”.