Above Photo: Some pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls have said they were forced to chemically straighten their hair and not have afros that were deemed untidy. | Photo: AFP
A South African school was ordered Tuesday to suspend hairstyle regulations after Black students complained that the restrictions singled them out and that they had been called monkeys by teachers for wearing banned “afros.”
Local education authorities in the Gauteng province gave Pretoria High School for Girls 21 days to re-assess its rules after protests by students triggered a public dispute over the racist policies. The protest was held Saturday in Johannesburg, led by dozens of girls, who marched at the school’s annual Spring Fair, despite the presence of heavy security. They urged supporters to use the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh, and a torrent of support poured out on social media.
The prestigious school in the capital of Pretoria, just north of Johannesburg, was historically attended by whites only but admitted Black children following the end of apartheid in 1994.
Some pupils said they were forced to chemically straighten their hair and not wear afro hairstyles that were deemed untidy. One student had also stated that Black girls aren’t allowed to stand in groups and are often accused of being too involved in political and racial disputes.
After visiting the school on Monday for talks with senior staff and students, provincial Education Minister Panyaza Lesufi said a probe would be launched.
“Learners feel that they are not allowed to wear Black hairstyles, such as an afro. Specifically, the school policy limits the length of the hairstyle,” the ministry said in a statement. “Some educators tell them they look like monkeys, or have nests on their heads.”
During his visit, students demanded that Lesufi ensure the school’s code of conduct doesn’t discriminate against Black and Muslim girls. They also called for disciplinary action against teachers and other staff members perpetuating these racist policies.
Over the weekend, defiant Black students with afro hairstyles and braids held a protest at the school against the longstanding regulations.
Politicians quickly weighed in, with the two largest opposition parties criticising the prestigious school.
The ministry statement said “the code of conduct … must be reviewed and the clause dealing with hairstyles should be suspended in the meantime.”
It also accused the school of a heavy-handed response for calling in police and armed security guards to deal with Saturday’s protests.
A white student allegedly told a Black student that she did not need a pencil because her finger was black enough, and white students allegedly complained about being taught “kaffir” music, using an insulting term for a Black African.
The incident is a painful reminder of the apartheid era when striking students protesting a ban on speaking African languages in schools, sparked the 1976 Soweto Riots, which revived a moribund anti-apartheid movement.