Racism row over South Africa school's hair policy

Social media exploded with the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh as black students were told to straighten their hair.

Photo by: Twitter
Photo by: Twitter

A learner confronts security at Pretoria High School for Girls. Image: Twitter/@amanda__kwele

It’s been 21 years since the fall of Apartheid, yet a South African school on Monday was accused of racism for allegedly telling black girls to straighten their hair and not wear 'afro' hairstyles.

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.

Over the weekend, students donning afro hairstyles and braids held a protest at the school to voice anger against the long-standing rule.

The protests soon erupted with videos and photographs on social media with the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh trending in the region. 

One video, viewed more than 92,000 times on facebook, depict armed policemen and security officials threatening to arrest the protesting learners, many of them in grade 8. 

On Monday, Panyaza Lesufi, the minister of education in Gauteng province, visited the government-run school. After talking to senior staff and students, Lesufi called for an investigation into the matter.

"I'm officially appointing an independent investigation body to investigate all the allegations levelled against certain educators, events of the 26 and 27 [August] and all issues that learners felt border on racism and all related matters," Lesufi told reporters on Monday.

The committee will have 21 days to compile a preliminary report.

“On the basis of that report I will discuss it with the SGB [school governing body] and agree on a way forward,” Lesufi added.

 An online petition against the school's alleged policy has gathered more than 22,000 signatures since it was created on Friday.

The petition, titled "Stop Racism at Pretoria Girls High", calls on authorities to ensure that the "school's code of conduct does not discriminate against black and Muslim girls".

"We are being discriminated against because of our hair, they want us to relax our hair, they want our hair to look a certain way," an anonymous student told the PowerFM radio station.

The prestigious school in the capital Pretoria was historically attended by whites only but now admits black children following the end of apartheid in 1994.

South Africa is still grappling with racial issues 22 years after the end of white-minority rule.

Black students at the school also alleged on social media that they were not allowed to speak ethnic languages to one other.

Disagreements over students' hairstyles have previously erupted in South African schools, with some parents accusing education authorities of racism.

TRTWorld and agencies