Station commanders have apparently been told to ensure that the dress code is followed strictly, with no beards or long hair allowed for male police officers.
The Daily News spoke to two Durban police officers who have been given stern warnings from the office of Acting Provincial Commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi.
One is a member of the Nazareth Baptist Church, otherwise known as the Shembe Church.
In the service for almost 20 years, he said the fight of fellow Shembe police officers to be allowed to wear their hair long and grow a beard was a losing one.
The officer, who cannot be named because he is still in the service, said his station commander understood that his religion prohibited him from cutting his hair or beard, but he was still required to enforce the policy after a recent instruction was communicated to police stations.
“I was told that persons who did not comply with the policy would face the consequences from the commissioner’s office. I was forced to comply by cutting my hair and shaving my beard. I had to choose between my bread and butter and my religion, which is not fair,” he said.
Brigadier Jay Naicker said he was not sure why the enforcement was attributed to Mkhwanazi because the dress code was a national order.
“All candidates were made aware of the dress code from their inception in the SAPS. It is the duty of the police commander at all levels to ensure that the dress code is enforced and that their appearances are in line with our organisational directives. If a commander fails to enforce these orders, he or she will also be guilty of misconduct,” said Naicker.
The issue of religious and cultural items was deliberated during the National Management Forum in April last year where it was resolved that allowing officers to have long hair and beards should be prohibited. This was because it was thought it could impact on the image of religious and ideological neutrality and the uniformity and discipline of the service.
Nazareth Judicial Council spokesperson Thabo Sambothi urged affected police officers to contact the council to launch appeals that would be presented to the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission).
The same plight is faced by Muslim police officers.
Retired Durban police reservist Ahmed Rafeeq Kajee, who served for 19 years, fought to be allowed to have a beard. He said for years he was forced to be arrogant and never cut his beard.
“It was a struggle to get the officials to listen to me, until my application with the office of the National Commissioner at the time granted me a standing order of permission to keep my beard,” he said.
Kajee said the policy violated Muslim officers’ constitutional rights, but all his efforts for the practices of the Muslim religion to be considered always fell on deaf ears.
“I was not satisfied that the commissioner had granted me permission to wear my beard - I wanted recognition for all Muslim members, without their having to make individual applications,” he said.
Kajee said it was unfortunate that he left the service without having achieved his goal.
Moulana Abdul Khaliq Allie, deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council, said they had received grievances of Muslim officers who raised complaints about the SAPS dress code.
He said the council was arranging meetings with the relevant SAPS officials.