Sangoma Nhlanhleni Mbokazi wearing traditional headgear. Picture: Sandile Makhoba

Durban - Sangoma Nhlanhleni Mbokazi has always diligently upheld the rules and traditions of his calling prescribed to him by his ancestors, but he has recently become a very troubled man.

According to his ancestors’ instructions, Mbokazi of Folweni is not allowed to cover his head.

However, when the company that employs him as a forklift driver insisted that he wear a hard hat (plastic helmet) recently, he fell out of favour with his forebears.

In defying his ancestors’ instructions and raising their ire, Mbokazi now needs to urgently sacrifice a fattened cow and two goats to appease them – or else face their wrath.

But Mbokazi, who works for Imperial Retail Logistics, blames his bosses for the religious transgression and his ancestors’ disenchantment with him.

“They (his bosses) insist that I wear a hard hat in spite of me telling them it is against my calling as a sangoma. It is a violation of my religious belief.”

On two separate occasions, Mbokazi fainted while on duty. He claims wearing the helmet caused the collapses.

A desperate Mbokazi sought relief from the Equality Court, hoping it would compel his company to understand his beliefs.

“I tried to be obedient to my bosses by wearing the helmet, but it gave me severe headaches and caused my fall.”

Mbokazi submitted to the Equality Court that since birth he has never covered his head.

But the impasse between the sangoma and Imperial could not be resolved by this court. Last month, magistrate John Sanders ruled that the matter should be handled by the Labour Court.

Mbokazi said he had since been asked by Imperial not to return to work until he received direction from its human resources department.

The 62-year-old sangoma has been employed by Imperial for nine years.

His falling-out with the firm began in February, when it began to apply stricter safety policies, including Mbokazi having to wear the safety hat.

Mbokazi claims he was never compelled to wear a safety hat previously.

A shop steward tried to explain Mbokazi’s dilemma regarding the wearing of a hat to bosses at Imperial, but was told that safety policies could not be compromised.

Imperial attempted to test Mbokazi’s claim that wearing the hat was causing him great discomfort, which resulted in him fainting. So they asked Mbokazi for medical evidence to back his claim.

A medical doctor and a traditional doctor submitted reports stating that Mbokazi could not wear hats, as they affected him adversely.

But the company was not convinced and sent Mbokazi to their medical expert. The doctor diagnosed the sangoma as suffering from hypertension, and said the condition caused him to have headaches.

Mbokazi said his loyalties were still with the company, and his action was not an act of defiance. He was merely trying to get them to accommodate his religious belief and duty.

Mbokazi said he had received commendation for his outstanding attendance record in the past, and he was even prepared to do a sweeper’s job, so that he wouldn’t have to comply with the hat rule.

Human resources officer for Imperial Allister Ramasamy denied Mbokazi had been asked to stay away from work.

“Mbokazi was never asked to stay at home. A telegram was sent to Mbokazi due to his continued absence from work since June 6 and was instructed to report to HR to inform us of his intentions regarding returning to duty.”

In its affidavit to the Equality Court, Imperial said:

* As a forklift driver lifting pallets of glass bottles, it was necessary for Mbokazi to wear a safety hat.

* The medical reports Mbokazi submitted were not detailed enough to explain whether the hat caused his headaches.

* The company’s doctor was allegedly able to determine that the headaches Mbokazi experienced were not caused by the hard hat.

The company also alleges it has CCTV footage that shows Mbokazi “faking” an attack when using the hat.

Mbokazi refuted that he had faked a fainting attack.

Labour Court action is likely to follow, if Imperial institute disciplinary action against Mbokazi.

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Sunday Tribune