“The issue of my hair has followed me my entire life”: School’s racist hair policy suspended after pupils protest

Posted by
Hayley Spencer

A group of South African school girls have hit international headlines after protesting against their school's hair policy, which has been deemed racist. They have succeeded in having the rules revoked and have moved thousands following their cause using #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh.

Pupils at Pretoria Girls High School in Pretoria, South Africa, had been issued a new code of conduct which included policies on appearance, stipulating how they should wear their hair. Black pupils with natural hair said they had also been told to straighten their afros and that they had been told that their hair looked "untidy." 

The policy suggested all hairstyles must be "conservative, neat and in keeping with school uniforms"  - whatever that means. It also outlines that hair must be worn off the face, and tied up if it exceeds jaw length.

They staged the protest over the weekend, after deciding they'd had enough of policies at the school that they felt discriminated against black pupils with natural hair, and felt were an attack on their cultural identity.

An online petition also appeared to demand a change in policy and discipline for staff who had implemented the practices. 

After word spread about the girls standing up for their right to unapologetically wear their natural hair, they gathered thousands of supporters who flooded Twitter with messages under the #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh

A 13-year-old pupil named Zulaikha Patel has inadvertently become the face of the movement by leading the protests, and earned support from Solange Knowles on Twitter.

"The issue of my hair has been a thing that's followed me my entire life, even in Primary I was told my hair is not natural, it's exotic, my Afro was not wanted or anything like that and then the issue followed me to High School,"  Patel told CNN

The girls' activism has seen Panyaza Lesufi, Gauteng's minister of education visit the school to address the situation with senior staff and students. It was then decided that 'The Code of Conduct of the schools must be reviewed and the clause dealing with hairstyles should be suspended in the meantime,' according to CNN.

Their brave actions have even inspired pupils at Lawson Brown High School in the Eastern Cape to protest against experiences of cultural discrimination and racism. And at St. Michael's School for Girls in Bloemfontein, parents joined their children to address their grievances with school policies concerning natural hair.

We doubt this is the last we'll see of Patel or the other pupils after such a courageous display.