Allowing Rastafarian warders to wear dreadlocks would ”open the floodgates” of indiscipline, the area manager of Pollsmoor Prison, Mandla Mkabela, told the Labour Court on Friday.
He was testifying in an application by five Rastafarian warders who were dismissed in July last year after refusing to cut their hair for religious reasons.
Two of them are seeking reinstatement and damages; the other three, who have found new jobs, want monetary compensation and damages.
They say the ban on males wearing dreadlocks is discriminatory — it has not been applied to female staff — and unconstitutional.
Mkabela told the court that there had been a noticeable difference since he took over at the prison at the beginning of 2007 and insisted on full compliance with the department’s dress code.
”It has enhanced discipline and teamwork because we see ourselves as one force with one common goal,” he said.
There had also been fewer escapes, fewer incidents in the prison and fewer complaints from prisoners in the wake of the enforcement.
He said he had not allowed the dreadlocks because the only concessions for deviation from the dress code were for medical reasons.
”[Granting] the request would open the floodgates,” Mkabela said. ”That means if other members come now and say they are making the same request … I have to also grant them that permission, and at the end of the day there won’t be a uniform at all.”
Staff of the department belonged to various cultures and religions, and if it made concessions for one or two of them, it would have to do so for all.
Asked by advocate Ashton Schippers, for the department, to comment on the warders’ claim that the dismissals constituted unfair discrimination, he said: ”That is not unfair discrimination because this dress code applies across [the board]; it doesn’t apply to a certain group of individuals.”
He said his information was that the dismissal had been procedurally fair.
Mkabela will be cross-examined on Monday. — Sapa