South African School’s Hair Policies Criticized as Racist

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Claims that black South African students at an all girls’ school have been told to straighten their hair has led to a review of school policies and intervention from the country’s education department.

Social media was abuzz regarding allegations that staff at the Pretoria Girls High School had engaged in racist and discriminatory practices by forcing girls to chemically straighten their hair and banning African hairstyles such as afros, bantu knots and braids. Photos and videos of students from the school engaging in protests were followed by the #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh hashtag, which went viral quickly.

The Daily Mail reports that a petition has been set up asking for an investigation into the conduct of the school and has so far gathered 10,000 signatures since it was set up.

The petition calls on the Gauteng province’s Education Member of Executive Council, Panyaza Lesufi and the schools headmistress to ensure that the schools code of conduct does not discriminate against students and to protect those pupils who participated in protests from victimization, reports Victor Muisyo with Agencies on Africanews.

The petition states that:

“[R]ight now‚ learners at Pretoria High school are demanding that racist practices at the school are brought to an end. Girls attending the school have been forced to straighten their hair; are accused of conspiring when standing in groups and face other intolerable comments and actions. We stand in solidarity with the learners‚ who marched at the school on the 26th to say enough is enough. It is unacceptable that in a country in which Black people are a demographic majority‚ we still today continue to be expected to pander to whiteness and to have it enforced through school policy.”

The Times Live reports that the schools code of conduct does not specifically stipulate that African style hairstyles are not allowed. It does however, express that hair styles need to be conservative, stay in line with the school uniform, and that long hair should be tied back.

The regulations are open to interpretation.

The Daily Sabah reports that politicians have swiftly responded to the allegations, with Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, tweeting:

“My daughter has an Afro… Would she not be allowed at (Pretoria) girls?”

The Quartz published statements made by a final year student at the school who uses her essay in The Daily Vox to reflect on some of the incidents that girls enrolled at the school have experienced. Malaika Eyoh writes:

“Our schools undervalue blackness and focus more on containing us than nourishing us. Racially charged incidents between students and staff members are commonplace, as are sweeping these issues under the rug.”

The Daily Sabah reports that disagreements on hairstyles remain commonplace throughout schools in South Africa. Some parents have previously complained that the education authorities are discriminatory.

The incident evokes the legacy of Apartheid. Even though the cruel era ended 22 years ago, it appears that racial prejudice is still embedded within country. Some areas in South Africa have been accused of trying to recreate a pre-democratic South Africa, justifying their actions as cultural preservation.