SA school's hair debacle: Solange Knowles gets involved


She's been lauded as the face of the movement against discriminatory hair rules in South African schools.

And now 13-year-old Zulaikha Patel has been sent some virtual props from Hollywood. "I think you are super rad ," Solange Knowles tweeted last night. "Go on w ya baaaad self."

The Pretoria Girls' High student has made headlines in SA and beyond, after images of her protesting with her classmates outside the school on Monday 29 August were shared on Twitter. In one widely-circulated image, Zulaikha defiantly faces off against what seems to be a male teacher, her hair crowning her head in a glorious afro.

In a clip on Instagram, Zulaikha is at the centre of a stand-off with security guards threatening to take her and her friends into custody. "Arrest us, arrest us all," the girls can be heard saying.

A video posted by Palesa Sedibe (@palii_sedibe) on

The schools code of conduct does not explicitly ban afros, but rules state girls' hair "should be conservative, neat and in keeping with the school uniform."

It seems that school staff have allegedly interpreted that as to mean black girls must have their hair braided or relaxed.

"The issue of my hair has been a thing that's followed me my entire life," the teen told CNN.

"Even in primary I was told my hair is not natural, it's exotic, my afro was not wanted or anything like that and then the issue followed me to high school.".

Zulaikha's parents were furious with the school this week, her older sister Amira told The Daily Vox.

"My dad was particularly angry and demanded to speak to the headmistress," she said.

"The school was on shutdown [on Monday] so parents were not being allowed into the premises. It was tense. My mother has an appointment with the school and governing body regarding Zulaikha’s hair because she’s gotten into trouble for her before. She’s even been in detention for it."

"People are shocked that a 13-year-old girl can pull such a movement at a young age but I think it’s been a long time coming," Amira added, describing how Zulaikha had been bullied and would cry every day after school.

"She’d get home and cry because of how she was treated because of her hair, and say that the school said her hair is a distraction and called it exotic."

"She’s had to change school three times because of her hair. Other children would laugh at her and say, 'Oh my god, your hair looks like a cabbage'. It broke my heart."

In the wake of the protest, the school's governing body said they had held a successful meeting with the province's education minister, Panyaza Lesufi, and it would "resolve the issues which were raised."

After visiting the school, Lesufi suspended the their code of conduct relating to hair and instituted an investigation into problems at the school, News24 reports.

Read more: 

Protests outside Pretoria girls’ school over natural hair rules

To my beautiful, curly-haired daughter – you are perfect as you are

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Read your favourite magazine in a convenient PDF form.
Read now