Young Revolutionaries: South African Students Protest School’s Ban On Natural Hair


An affluent South Africa high school is under investigation for its rules against afros and other natural hair styles. On Aug. 29, students at Pretoria Girls High School walked out in protest catching global attention for taking a stance against and exposing on-going racism at the school.

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Images of the protest went viral, birthing the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirls and an online petition urging education officials to look into the school’s policies.

Without explicitly mentioning afros, Pretoria’s general appearance policy, the formerly all-White school requires that all hair must be “neat” and away from the face.

“If hair is long enough to be tied back, it must be tied back neatly in a ponytail, no lower than the nape of the neck, with a navy blue elastic,” reads the policy. “Ponytails may not be visible from the front. No crocodile, banana, or other fancy clips are allowed. All hair must be off the face and not be in the eyes. Hair buns must be tight with no loose hair and have to be worn in the neck, and not on top of the head. The hair may not cover elastic.”

Students are not allowed to dye their hair, or wear shaved heads, and although “cornrows, natural dreadlocks and singles/braids (with or without extensions) are allowed” the hair must be “a maximum of 10mm in diameter.”

The policy goes on to state that singles and braids “must be the same length and be the natural color of the girl’s hair,” and that any braids shorter than collar length “must be kept off the face with a plain navy or tortoise shell alive band.”

Longer braids must be tied back and students aren’t allowed to wear beads or any hair decorations. And “no patterned cornrows” are permitted. “Cornrows must run parallel from each other from the forehead to the nape of the neck,” the policy states.

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The school’s hair policy is currently suspended pending an investigation. Meanwhile, officials from the Gauteng Department of Education have since met with students who shared personal accounts of racism at the school.

“I have a natural Afro, but a teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a bird’s nest,” one student shared.

Students recalled stories of being told that they “look like monkeys” and were discouraged from speaking African languages. Others say they were told that they should be attending schools in under-funded predominately black townships.

Zulaikha Patel, the 13-year-old photoed above, has gotten in trouble for wearing her hair in an afro, and says a teacher at Pretoria called her speech on a black feminist racist and poorly researched.

See more on the protest below.


Tags: South Africa