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Can you wear your sangoma dress at work?

An Eastern Cape sangoma initiate is at the centre of a workplace dress storm.

FILE: Traditional health practitioners, pictured on 12 May 2011, conduct a traditional ceremony. Picture: SAPA stringer

JOHANNESBURG - An Eastern Cape sangoma initiate was asked to leave his work premises, apparently because he was wearing traditional beads and white paint on his face, according to a report.

Talk at Nine's John Webb spoke to image consultant and CEO of SA Image Institute Doris Msibi and the Chairperson of the Commission on Religious and Traditional Affairs Mathole Motshekga about the matter.

Msibi said she sympathises with both the employer and the employee but that professionalism must be upheld.

"In a work environment there are expectations of how one looks and conducts themselves. Looks mean everything to a business and people have to be seen as professional and competent."

Msibi added that if the rules of a business are ignored that would impact badly on the image of the business.

Dress, grooming and personal hygiene affect the public's impression of a business, Msibi said.

On the other hand, Motshekga argued the employer was wrong to send the employee home because it's against the Constitution.

"Our constitutional vision is to build a non-racial, non-sexist, prosperous and united in diversity. Diversity has to be understood because it forms how we should interact with each other and how to treat each other."

Motshekga said in order to balance western and African work places one has to understand and tolerate both sides.

Dress codes are part and parcel of how a business communicates. They help an organisation say what it is about and the specific role and contribution their staffs are expected to make.

At the same time, the Dispatch Online reported on Monday that Zolile Jali, a general worker at Auto Tyres in Cambridge, claimed he was dismissed for wearing traditional beads, white head gear and white paint on his face, but this was denied by his employer.

Jali said, "I took leave from work after I became very sick. I could not walk and I suffered numerous asthma attacks. My elders advised me that I was suffering because I was ignoring my calling as a sangoma."

"Last Monday I reported back to work wearing my beads and my bosses dismissed me," he said.

Auto Tyres branch manager Ivor Richter said Jali had not been fired, but given time off to sort out his image.

"The employee said he would not change his image without getting permission from his superiors and we said he must go and do that ... We are a company that operates on strict guidelines when it comes to our employees. Customers have raised some concerns with regard to our employee's dress code," said Richter

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