By Jasmine Venegas
Black South African girls as young as 14 have publicly protested for the right to wear their natural hair at the Pretoria High School for girls in Pretoria, South Africa. The students’ uproar has been noticed by educators, who are looking into these concerns. The rules have now been suspended, according to BBC News, and the school says that it “will work with the authorities to address the issues raised by the girls.”
According to the Vibe, students at Pretoria Girls High School walked out in protest, which brought global attention to their stand against the no afros in school policy. Images of the protest went viral, popularizing the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirls. Similarly, an online petition urged education officials to look into the school’s policies.
The Daily Sabah, a South African newspaper, reported that students at Pretoria declared that they were required to chemically straighten their hair, as well as not wear afros since they are considered to be disorderly.
“I have a natural afro, but a teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a birds nest,” one girl told the provincial head of education.
According to the Huffington Post, the school’s code of conduct states that cornrows, dreadlocks and braids may not be more than ten millimeters in diameter. Although the code reads of many other hairstyles, it fails to mention of afros or hair texture. Moreover, the general appearance policy on campus requires that all hair must be neat and away from the face. The girls say the rule that “all styles should be conservative, neat and in keeping with school uniform” has been used to op-
press black students.
In an interview with the Guardian, Panyaza Lesufi, the head of education in Gauteng province, stated that, “the code of conduct […] is insensitive to different people and discriminates badly against black pupils as it asks them to straighten their hair. It is not fair because some pupils have natural[ly curly] hair so we have agreed with the student governing body that it be suspended.”
In response to Lesufi’s announcement, the head of the school’s governing body released a statement vowing that Pretoria girls will work closely with the students, teachers, the department of education, and the broader school community to ensure that everyone feels included and welcomed.