Women In Tech

A South African School asks Black Girls to Chemically Straighten their Hair; Where can we be Black if we can’t be Black in Africa?

The year is 2016. The human species has come to terms with itself; people are different because they adapt to the different places they originally came from, but they are still the same people. None better than the other based on their heritage, but the content of their character. Sound cliché doesn’t it? So you’d expect it to have sunk into everyone’s brains.

But not for the administrators of the Pretoria High School for Girls in Pretoria, South Africa! For a school based in Africa, where the native people are of Black heritage, you’d expect the school not to have policies that demand Black people not to be Black.

The school has an unwritten policy that demands Black girls not to wear their natural hair. The school administration does not want to see Black girls within the school premises with afro hair, a hair style that comes naturally for Black people. Instead, the school wants them to chemically straighten their hair; which would make them look not Black. The school has banned afro hairstyles and braids altogether.

The Black girls at the school staged a protest against the longstanding discriminative policy at this South Africa school. Tiisetso Phelta who graduated from the Pretoria High School for Girls back in 2014 shared her experience under the unwritten rule restricting Black girls from being Black:

I got accepted to the school thinking that it was okay to have an afro, because they give you a code of conduct to read and sign, and there is nothing with regards to African hair or an afro in the code of conduct,”

said Phelta.

When I got there I was told that I looked very untidy and looked as if I wasn’t part of the school uniform.”

Phelta was ‘advised’ by the staff at the school to apply chemicals on her hair to make it straight.

They would remind me every day. I refused; because if I use chemicals on my hair, my scalp gets extremely damaged … it really burns.”

Phelta says she and other students with afro hair were told to either chemically straighten their hair or braid them. Failure to which, they were not allowed to go to class and were put on detention. That was not the only problem the Black students had, students from other races were allowed to speak their native language while in the school premises. Black students were not allowed to speak their native language.

Children that are Afrikaans, German or Spanish, are allowed to speak their native tongues, but we South Africans are not allowed to speak our African native tongues,” adds Phelta.

They’re taking away our black heritage. The question is if we cannot be Black in school, where can we be Black? It’s a school in Africa, why are we not allowed to be Black in Africa? Where can we be Black if we can’t be Black in Africa?

The problem is that in 1994, when South Africa was set free from apartheid, they didn’t dismantle their old code of conduct; they just added a few rules to try to accommodate the Black child. They didn’t go back and dismantle everything and welcome the Black child. The Black child was never welcomed. They were just accepted for education purposes.”

Pretoria High School for Girls Background

It is one of the most prestigious schools in South Africa that historically has been attended by predominantly white students. After the collapse of apartheid, the school started enrolling Black students, but they are still the minorities inside the school. The school administration is also predominantly white, with just five staff members being of color.

For more on this developing story, click here.

Milicent Atieno

Proud Kenyan Citizen, loving everything Tech related.

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