Cosatu is on the warpath over the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) “unconstitutional attempts” to fire Major Fatima Isaacs from the military health service for the “nonsensical crime” of wearing the traditional Muslim scarf, the hijab.
The portfolio committee on defence and military veterans, meanwhile, has called for a “speedy and amicable” solution.
On Wednesday, News24 reported that SANDF spokesperson Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi had said details of interim relief for Isaacs would be made public soon. This after Isaacs appeared in the military court at the Castle of Good Hope, where she informed the senior military judge she had changed her legal representation and would need more time to consult.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Cosatu parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks said Isaacs had served the SANDF for 10 years without incident.
“Yet, the SANDF now wants to dismiss her for being a Muslim woman and wearing a hijab,” he added in the statement.
“While the rest of South Africa has been celebrating 25 years of a constitutional democracy, clearly the leadership of the SANDF wishes it was 1948 or the era of the Crusades. The SANDF is violating Major Isaacs’ inalienable constitutional rights to religious freedom. Part of expressing her religious views and culture is her right to wear a hijab. This is a constitutional right that applies across all religions. It does not need a permission slip from a general.”
“South Africa is a modern, constitutional democracy where discrimination based upon religion or gender is illegal. Someone needs to inform those blunderheads running the SANDF of this simple concept.”
Parks noted Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula had indicated in her recent budget vote she had requested the chief of the SANDF to resolve this matter.
“The fact that this matter is now before court and Major Isaacs’ career and constitutional rights are threatened is a shameful indictment upon the minister and chief of the SANDF. The President of the Republic [Cyril Ramaphosa] must instruct them to drop this case with immediate effect and to apologise to Major Isaacs for their shocking behaviour.
“Otherwise, Major Isaacs must take this matter to the Constitutional Court. Cosatu is confident that these idiots will be given the hiding that they deserve there.”
The chairperson of the portfolio committee on defence and military veterans, Cyril Xaba, called on the SANDF to find a speedy and amicable solution to the issue, saying the committee was concerned about the ongoing case.
“The SANDF needs to find a solution that is befitting to both parties, keeping in mind protocols that regulate order and discipline in the defence force, but also the imperatives of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution,” Xaba said, according to a statement released on Wednesday.
The committee also noted with concern reports on the alleged assault of a civilian by an SANDF soldier in Mitchells Plain last week and welcomed its probe into the incident.
“We know the difficult circumstances and the need to be thorough when conducting searchers, but we would like to encourage SANDF soldiers to exercise restraint but, at the same time, caution civilians not to cross the line,” said Xaba.