Although a court ruling allows Major Fatima Isaacs and other Muslim members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to wear headscarves under their berets, a new court challenge against the SANDF’s policy is looming.
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) indicated that Wednesday’s ruling, after the withdrawal of charges against Isaacs, was a partial victory and that the next step was to tackle the defence force’s dress code policy in court.
“We are going to the Equality Court [in Cape Town] to challenge the policy as the policy still stands even though they have withdrawn the charges,” Isaacs’ attorney, Amy-Leigh Payne, said after the brief military court proceedings at the Castle of Good Hope.
“So, at a later stage, if she does not comply with the restrictions, she can be charged again.”
Payne said the restrictions were that the headscarf had to be tight, should not cover the ears and had to be plain in colour. At the time the battle over the headscarf was still playing out, SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi said the army was governed by prescripts and dress codes which regulated and dictated how the uniform should be worn.
“The regulatory framework clearly stipulates that no other clothing may be worn with the official uniform which is representative of the SANDF as a military institution, therefore members are expected to conform to that as stipulated.”
While Isaacs was not allowed to speak to the media on Wednesday, she emerged from the court with a big smile as she placed her beret over her headscarf. The SANDF had charged her for “wilful defiance and disobeying a lawful command”.
Isaacs has been a member of the armed forces for more than a decade and works as a clinical forensic pathologist at 2 Military Hospital in Wynberg.