While on Twitter I noticed a trending hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh. I clicked on it and saw images of protests, and tweets of support for girls protesting the school’s hair policy. On Saturday the 27th of August, Pretoria High School for Girls held its annual Spring Fair, this year the event was met with protests by some black students. The students who wear their Afro textured hair natural were protesting the school’s policies pertaining to hair, which they believe discriminates against them. Many claim to have faced pressure to straighten their hair in order to conform to the school’s code of conduct. Some black students have even accused the school of discouraging them from speaking their native languages.
The protests have even been supported by the SA Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa who tweeted:
“Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African identity. Secondly, it is unacceptable to ban students from speaking their African languages at school”
The schools code of conduct states various rules about hair on page 7. Such rules include:
- requirements to wear hair off face
- tying hair that is long enough back into a ponytail, which is not allowed to be visible from the front
- low buns only, that must be neat with no loose hair
- hair must not cover the elastic
Afro textured hair is not mentioned specifically but the above rules clearly seem catered towards girls with straight European hair. Afro textured hair is likely to fall outside these rules by default. There’s a reason why the natural hair version of a ponytail is called “a puff”; the hair is certainly visible from the front and is likely to hide any elastic. The only reference that can be attributed towards Afro textured hair is the acceptance of cornrows, braids and even locs in the policy, although they have to meet specific requirements. Regardless of whether the policy itself is considered racist, it is the testimony of some of the girls that is most damaging to the school’s reputation. Some of the students protesting claimed to have endured racist and inappropriate comments by teachers. One of the protesters explained the frustration of the black students, telling BBC news:
“This is about our identity as black people. We’re tired of being told to be less than what we are so we can fit in,”
Despite apartheid in South Africa ending 1994; many agree that racism across the country still exists and blacks are being pressured to conform to a colonial standard of identity. Pretoria High School for Girls was founded in 1902 and was a whites only school during the apartheid era. The school is yet to comment on the allegations.
A petition demanding an end to racism at Pretoria Girls High has now received over 27,500 signatures. But the campaign is set to gain worldwide support due to people spreading the word on Twitter.
What do you think of the school’s policy and the protests? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.