CityPress - - Front Page - – Zinhle Mapumulo

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.



The hair poli­cies at some schools have been dis­crim­i­na­tory against many black chil­dren, es­pe­cially black

Mpho Ma­honko

Zizipho Saba

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