We do not want special favours but want to be treated with dignity and respect.
So said Pretoria mother Quraysha Ismail Sooliman.
She said her two daughters’ constitutional rights were twice trampled on by Home Affairs passport officials stationed at OR Tambo International Airport.
The officials demanded the girls’ remove their headscarves for identification purposes.
She said her daughters, aged 16 and 22, showed confidence before the officials but they were nevertheless embarrassed. Sooliman, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the University of Pretoria, subsequently filed a letter of complaint with the Department of Home Affairs.
Sooliman did not lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of South Africa as she opted to give the department an opportunity to respond.
She said practising Muslims wore headscarves to maintain reverence and respect to God and their own bodies.
“We are offended by this attitude. If rights are being violated due to ignorance by Home Affairs officials then such behaviour needs to be corrected. We do not wear face veils, so the demand to have the head covering removed violates our constitutional rights.”
Sooliman, her businessman husband Rashid Yousuf, son Zain, 20, and daughters Shaakira, 22, and Iram, 16, were heading for a Middle Eastern tour on Christmas day when their first ordeal began.
An official told Iram she needed to remove her scarf so he could see her hair – as her passport photo showed her without a scarf. “Iram said her face was clearly visible and there was no need to see her hair. He then told her ‘if we want, we can ask you to take off your headscarf’.”
Sooliman, who was cleared at passport control despite also wearing a scarf, returned to see what was happening. “When I questioned him he let Iram through.”
When the family returned on January 15 a female official referred to Shaakira’s headscarf as a ‘handkerchief’.
“She said my daughter must remove her scarf so she could see her hair and ears. She also said Shaakira was not allowed to wear a scarf in her passport photograph nor during the identification process at passport control.”
Sooliman said she was disappointed. “The manner in which they quizzed my daughters, and the fact that they did not hesitate in claiming they had the power to make the girls take off their headscarves to establish their identity if they so wished, was disconcerting.
“If security is an issue then staff should have training in courtesy, tolerance and respect. Facilities should be provided where females can remove their head coverings in privacy in the presence of a female official. We have no problem with this. “If asked nicely and with the proper provisions for specific requests, no rational individual will oppose the request. Exhibitions of power which can be abusive and ‘illegal’ will not make us a better country.”
The Director General of Home Affairs, Mkuseli Apleni, reportedly said that while officials at passport control were within their rights to make such requests, they were bound by policy to do so privately.
He admitted that in practice some officials might not comply with this requirement but it would be investigated.
Apleni said his department adhered to the requirements of International Civil Aviation Organisation in terms of passport photographs. Headgear is accepted as long as the forehead and eyes are exposed in a particular way and it does not interfere with civil aviation authority standards. - POST