School protest: ‘We have failed our girls by relaxing our hair to please whites’

Pretoria High School for Girls. Picture: Shandukani Mulaudzi/City Press
Pretoria High School for Girls. Picture: Shandukani Mulaudzi/City Press
Birds nests, static hair, Afros that are too long - pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls are tired of these insults when they wear their hair naturally, and they are receiving support from others who have been through the same thing.

Past pupils of the school have gathered in solidarity, after the school trended on social media last night under the #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh hashtag, and videos featuring the schoolgirls have been shared prolifically.

On Friday, pupils  used social media to call on people who would be at the school’s annual Spring Fair on Saturday to wear black and march in solidarity in silence at 12pm. But the school had hired security stop the girls from protesting.

A small group of people gathered outside the school this morning.

“We have failed our young girls by relaxing our hair and bending to please white people,” said Yvette Raphael, a human rights activist.

Dressed in all black and donning a green doek, Raphael said she was at the school today after watching the “disturbing” videos that were trending last night on social media, and it saddened her as a mother and a woman.

“How is it possible that our children have to fight for their rights and their dignity?” she said.

A matric pupil at the school, who asked not to named out of fear from intimidation, said there had been a number of incidents that led to the protest.

“They tell us that our Afros can’t be too long because girls can’t see over them in class,” she said.

She recalled a time when a teacher told her her hair looked like a “bird’s nest” and when she had to untie her bantu knots during a double maths class.

She described an incident where a school girl in Grade 8, whose picture was trending on Twitter, was told that her Afro had reached its limit.
The girl, who may not be named because she is a minor, was also seen in a video with her hands crossed and in the air telling security to arrest her and others if they had done something wrong.

Her sister was outside the school today to support her. She said her younger sister had a similar problem in primary school too.

“She started off at Brooklyn Primary School and then had to go to Arcadia and I had to go there and defend her. I’m surprised now that it’s happening here as well,” she said.

The woman, who matriculated from the school in 2013, said her sister cried when she called their mother last night.

The woman, whose mother was at the school with her lawyers, said when she saw her sister trending on Twitter she was worried about her.

“I feared for her safety, I feared for her being bullied because she’s such a fragile person, but clearly not any more. She actually broke out of that shell,” she said.

She said the security on Saturday was disturbing.

“Why bring the dogs and the men here for such little children? Do they feel that threatened by such little children? What are they going to do? Are they going to set these dogs on these kids? It doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi indicated on social media that he would be going to the school to see what was going on. He arrived after 10am.

The school gate was closed today – usually the gate is partially open and cars can drive to the security house to state why they are coming in. Science teacher Annamarie Van Niekerk and school governing body chairperson Graeme Wilson were controlling traffic into the school.

Wilson declined to speak to City Press and said the media knew more about Lesufi’s visit than he did because they had not been contacted.

Neo Kgobane, who matriculated last year, was also standing outside at the school. She said she was proud of the girls for speaking up and that it was “about time” this was brought to light.

“This has been going on for a long time and when we were here we didn’t know what to do about it. We had a head girl who told us our hair was static,” Kgobane said.

She said they were angry but did not know what to do so they sat back and let it happen.

“This is a big thing and I think that it’s time because it’s also given people at other schools a voice and now they know ‘we can say something’,” she said.

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