HAIR POLICE ARE ON THE PROWL
With her short, natural hair, Mpho Mahonko was able to escape what she calls the “Sunlight hair washing humiliation” at Wordsworth High School in Benoni. But most of her friends with relaxed hair were not as fortunate.
The 16-year-old watched in shock as the school’s principal, Dr Annelize Horn, handed the pupils Sunlight dishwashing liquid and ordered them to wash their “greasy hair”.
Horn was dismissed by the Gauteng education department early last year after being found guilty of misconduct relating to the hair-washing issue and other racial remarks she made to pupils. Since her departure, the school’s hair rules have changed – but not by much.
“They’re allowing corn rows now, but no braids. The use of gel and hair cream is still prohibited,” Mpho says.
“The teachers have also put up pictures of the corn rows we are allowed to have – ones with straight lines of plaited rows going towards the back. No fancy ones are allowed.”
In November 2013, Mpho says Horn told them “our hair was filthy and disgusting. She said it was unhygienic that black girls washed their hair only once a month.”
Mpho says while she had no problem with the school’s policy, she was bothered by the fact that Horn addressed only black girls about their hair.
“She could have asked us first why we relax and apply gel to our hair. We would have told her that this was the only way we could manage it.
“I was fortunate to escape the Sunlight hair-washing humiliation because I had natural hair. I know how humiliated my friends felt when they returned from the bathrooms with wet hair.”
Zizipho Saba (11) was called out of class last year during a routine check for head lice at her school. Her crime? Wearing braids. When she stepped outside, two white teachers were waiting for her. The first question they asked was: “How many times do you wash your hair?”
In her naivety, she responded by saying once or more every three weeks. She was then ordered to remove her braids and wash her hair as soon as she got home.
And that’s exactly what the then Grade 5 pupil at a Cape Town primary school did.
“I didn’t take offence at all because they often did it with other kids,” she said. “I got home and told my aunt that my teacher said I must remove my braids and wash my hair. When she asked why, I told her that the school was doing checks for pupils with head lice.”
Her aunt duly removed the braids and cleaned her hair. But her mother, Nathi Saba, who lives in Johannesburg, was furious. She couldn’t take up the matter though because she was too far away.
“What infuriated me was that Zizipho has very coarse hair and the only way to manage it is by braiding it. It was not the first time she had had this hairstyle at school and for her teacher to insinuate that she had head lice because of braids was uncalled for,” she said.
“Zizipho is a child and it is understandable that she took no offence, but I believe that summoning her out of class in front of everybody was not the best way to address the situation. Other kids immediately assumed she had lice because she was called out.”
Zizipho said at least her classmates didn’t tease her when she returned to school without her braids.
DON’T GET IN OUR HAIR girls
The hair policies at some schools have been discriminatory against many black children, especially black