/ 2 September 2016

Several state and private schools have bans on dreadlocks, Afros and braids

Roots of discontent: Learners protest outside the Pretoria High School for Girls against its hair policy and alleged racism.
Roots of discontent: Learners protest outside the Pretoria High School for Girls against its hair policy and alleged racism.

A ban on learners sporting Afros, dreadlocks and braids is still in place at several state and private schools despite a fierce storm erupting on social media this week over Pretoria High School for Girls’ hair policy, which was described by some as racist.

A random survey by the Mail & Guardian found that several schools have outlawed “popcorn” hairstyles as well as “mohicans, Afros and Rastafarian” styles.

An inspection of some schools’ codes of conduct shows that there is still a ban on Afros, dreadlocks and braids. These include:

  • Benoni High in Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg;
  • Andrews Academy in Johannesburg;
  • Jeppe High School for Boys in Johannesburg;
  • Rondebosch Boys’ High in Cape Town;
  • Pinetown Girls’ High in Durban; and
  • Greyville Primary in Johannesburg.

Greyville Primary told the M&G that, following this week’s controversy, it was reviewing its code of conduct.

The school currently frowns on girls having “spiky, bushy” styles and dreadlocks are not allowed.

Mohamed Khan, chairperson of Greyville Primary’s governing body, said the school practised tolerance and diversity and that a review of the code was necessary.

“Thus far we have not had any resistance from our parents,” he said.

Pretoria High School for Girls was at the centre of a furious backlash this week after black learners told of how teachers demeaned and humiliated them about their hairstyles.

They were allegedly forced to straighten their hair, and hairstyles such as Afros were labelled as “nests on their heads”.

As the storm erupted, it also emerged that learners at St Michael’s School for Girls in Bloemfontein were subjected to a so-called swimming cap inspection to determine the neatness of their hair.

Girls were lined up to have a swimming cap placed on their heads. If the cap did not fit, it allegedly implied the learner’s hair was not neat enough. The practice has since been stopped at the school.

Benoni High’s code of conduct states that the “image of the school is more important than the fashion consciousness of the individual”.

“The school cannot enter into arguments in connection with hair, nor can correspondence be entered into. The school has no desire to win arguments in this connection,” it reads.

“Exaggerated, especially outlandish or ‘cult’ hairstyles (mohicans, Afros, mullets, steps, Rastafarian, weaves) are not acceptable. No extensions, clean-shaven styles or braids are allowed.”

Mohawks (another term for the mohican style), Afros and facial hair are not permitted at Andrews Academy in Randburg, Johannesburg.

The 2016 code of conduct for Jeppe High School for Boys stipulates that Afros, braids, dreadlocks, perms and any unusual or fashionable hairstyles “are forbidden”.

Michael Berger, chairperson of the governing body at Jeppe Boys, said in an emailed statement that the school leadership believed it “has a reasonable and fair policy on hair and hair-styles that applies to a boys-only school.

“The headmaster and deputy headmasters have the right to act in the framework of this policy and use their discretion in deciding on what is acceptable for a Jeppe boy’s hairstyle.

“Despite the fact that there has been no recent objection raised from parents on the code for regulating the policy on hair and hairstyles, the school, governing body, representative council of learners and senior management team are engaging proactively and positively with learners on this matter.”

He said the school will adapt, update or revise the code to reflect “whatever amendments are deemed fair and reasonable”.

According to Rondebosch Boys High’s code of conduct, Afro-styled hair is not permitted. School principal Shaun Simpson said the section on Afro hairstyles was inserted after consultation, at the time, with black parents and the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town.

“The most important part of our policy for all boys is that a boy’s hair does not draw public attention to that particular boy. Generally, hair for all boys who attend our school must be short and neat.”

He said that the style most prevalent among both black and white boys is for the hair to be longer on top and undercut “with a fade and taper”.

“As far as I am aware, there has been no comment made in my time at the school about any of the aspects of the hair policy to which you refer.”

Pinetown Girls’ High declined to comment on its hair policy.

Tim Gordon, the national chief executive of the Governing Body Foundation, said they believed a review of schools’ codes of conduct was essential.

“We know that some schools have been busy reviewing and that others need to. It’s something we’ve been talking about and clearly it must go ahead,” he said.

But there should not be “a knee-jerk over-reaction”, he added.

“We hope it will not go ahead in such a way that it damages some of the important values of our democratic society.”

Gordon said the body was providing guidance and suggestions to schools on how they should amend their codes of conduct.

Meanwhile, Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi told the M&G that all schools’ codes of conduct would be recalled for “review”.

“We are of the view that the majority are in conflict with the Constitution and we don’t want to open ourselves to serious litigation.”

He described Pretoria High School for Girls as a “mini-jail”: if black children were in groups, they were apparently asked to disperse “because they are plotting something”.

“It’s something you do in jail,” he said, adding: “Educators say the hairstyles of black learners look like birds’ nests. It saddens you.”

Lebo Madiba, an aunt of a learner at the school, said she was happy with Lesufi’s intervention.

“I am more interested in how the school moves forward from this incident to ensure that there is harmonious change at the school and that those who protested are not victimised,” she said, saying she had offered “to help them work through the process”.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa was among those outraged at the Pretoria High School for Girls hair policy.

He tweeted: “We support the stance of Pretoria Girls High students to protect their right to have natural hair” and “It is unacceptable to ban students from speaking their African languages at school.”

Scores of people, including Nomakhomazi Dyosopu, also posted comments on the school’s Facebook page.

She wrote: “This boils down to white people who live in a bubble and refuse to acknowledge the existence of black people in their own land.

“You can continue to make excuses but these are kids and they reacted appropriately because the treatment is disgusting.”

Jay Matlou wrote: “I am a guardian of an impressionable young girl who has internalised self-hatred for her own natural hair growth because of teachers so & so blatantly telling her her natural hair is ‘not quite all right’.”

Cheri-lee Phoenix Oelschig wrote: “It’s an infringement of human rights to say to someone that they have to change the way their hair naturally falls.

“You’re telling a young, impressionable girl with the world at her feet that it is not okay to be different or completely her own person.”