Hijab-wearing Major Fatima Isaacs, who serves in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), refused to remove her headscarf under her military beret. Major Isaacs was charged in military court for "willful defiance and disobeying a lawful command." The case, which has been going on for the last few months, was recently withdrawn.
As the case was ongoing, 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 the ruling allows Major Isaacs and other Muslims members of SANDF to wear the headscarf under their berets, a new court challenge against the SANDF policy is looming. According to the Legal Resource Centre, the victory in Major Isaacs' case was partial and the next step is to tackle SANDF's dress code policy in court.
Major Isaacs' representative, Nazeema Mohammed, stated, "Today the Legal Resources Centre legal team was in the process of advising SANDF and the military court that we want the proceedings to have stayed, and before we could do this we were advised in court that all charges against Fatima Isaacs have been withdrawn. To us the issue is broad in the South African context, coming where we come from. She struggled to liberate the country from, you know, discrimination and now we fighting within the year 2019 and 2020 discrimination in its rawest form in one of our state departments."
Amy-Leigh Payne, Major Isaacs' attorney, stated, "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are going to the Equality Court [in Cape Town] to challenge the policy as the policy still stands even though they have withdrawn the charges. So, at a later stage, if she does not comply with the restrictions, she can be charged again."