South African High School Suspends Ban Against Natural Hair After Student Protest

August 30, 2016  |  

You would think that if any place were going to be free from anti-African sentiment it would be one of the 54 countries on the continent. But you would be mistaken. Because a private school in South Africa, up until yesterday, were preventing their Black students, particularly their female, Black students from wearing their hair in natural styles.

Outraged, the students at the Pretoria High School for Girls staged a protest, fighting against the racist rules. The female students said that they had been told to straighten their hair and not adopt the afro style.

The protested escalated to the point that officials threatened to arrest the protesters.

According to Newsweek, in a statement issued earlier today, Panyaza Lesufi, the education minister, found during a recent visit that there were allegations of racist abuse against the Black students for their hair and speaking in African languages.

The department said, “The learners feel that educators use abusive and demeaning language when they address them regarding their hairstyles. For instance, some educators tell them they look like monkeys, or have nests on their heads.”

The statement also said that African languages were “not tolerated” on school premises. But the use of Afrikaans— a language and culture largely associated with apartheid and racial segregation— is permitted.

The education department ordered a formal, independent investigation into the allegations of racism and that the school’s code of conduct be reviewed. As a result, the clause concerning the hairstyles was suspended.

The school’s website stated that they had a successful meeting with the education department and that the issues that were raised have been resolved.

Perhaps the news of discrimination shouldn’t come as such a surprise given the school’s history. Pretoria High School for Girls was founded in 1902 and was whites-only during the apartheid era. Today, according to its website, the school is multiracial. The protest gained attention on social media when the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh started trending in South Africa yesterday. The country’s arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa also got in on the discussion saying that the government supported the students’ desire “to protect their right to have natural hair” and that it was “unacceptable” for the school to prevent students from speaking African languages. He tweeted:

Thanks to these girls diligence, fearlessness and determination, the school is a little less hostile to people who wish to express their African identity…in Africa.

Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire.com. She is also the editor of Bettah Days. 

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