Young SA activist honoured with mural in New York

The mural of Zulaikha Patel. Picture: Brand South Africa
The mural of Zulaikha Patel. Picture: Brand South Africa

Teenage activist Zulaikha Patel, who was prominent in 2016 during protests against discriminatory hair policies at Pretoria Girls High School, has inspired a new mural by a well-known New York City street artist.

Lexi Bella, a renowned American muralist who has created tributes to prominent female political and pop culture leaders, recently completed a mural in honour of South African schoolgirl activist Zulaikha Patel on a wall on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, New York City.

@zulaikha.patel.with.thee.afro my #ZulaikhaPatel still giving us hope on #Flushing @thebushwickcollective

A post shared by Lexi Bella (@lexibellaart) on

Zulaikha, who, at age 13, was part of a peaceful demonstration against her school’s policy on unconventional hairstyles in 2016.

In a widely shared viral video, she calmly defied the school’s security staff attempting to disrupt the protest.

Zulaikha was quoted as saying: “Asking me to change my hair is like asking me to erase my blackness.”

The protest led to a Gauteng education department investigation into school hair policies.

The action also inspired similar protests around the country, with many asking if official policies towards hairstyles were steeped in racial discrimination.

The Pretoria Girls High School protest received international media attention and support.

In September 2016, American political activist and academic Angela Davis delivered the Steve Biko Lecture at Unisa, in which she paid special tribute to Zulaikha and her fellow protesters for their courage.

She invited them to join her on stage in what many recognised as “a symbolic gesture of passing the torch from one generation to the next”.

In December 2016, Zulaikha was included in the BBC’s 100 Women list that recognised the world’s leading female voices and trailblazers.

She joined other prominent South African women on the list, including former public protector Thuli Madonsela and Zoleka Mandela.

Zulaikha was recently invited to attend the funeral of South Africa struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada, who died in March.

Bella’s mural is not the first tribute to Zulaikha; many in the global online community have recognised her bravery in the form of poems, songs and other art.

The American singer Solange Knowles also offered her support to the pupils’ cause on Twitter.

Posting an image of the Zulaikha mural on her Instagram page, artist Bella hoped that giving international prominence to a grassroots activist would inspire others to stand up against injustice.

Bella’s other works include tributes to veteran feminist Gloria Steinem, singer Debbie Harry and artist Frida Kahlo.


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