‘We let you down and I’m sorry’: Unathi's powerful letter to young women of South Africa


Protests erupted in schools across the country after 13-year-old Zulaikha Patel from Pretoria Girls High refused to back down when she was told her afro flouted the school’s hair rules*.

As the controversy raged, singer and Idols judge Unathi Msengana penned a letter to Zulaikha and the young women of South Africa. Unathi is also the mother of a five-year-old daughter.

Don't Take Our Baggage As Your Truth

We let you down and I’m sorry. The beauty of freedom, sometimes, can make us forget that it comes with responsibility. To protect and nurture it. The responsibility, in your instance, is making sure you don’t have to fight the battles we fought.

If I could go back and tell you all our stories I get teary just seeing that you are still struggling with the same things. It can’t be right. Because in all honesty you shouldn’t have to fight, that’s what our forefathers sacrificed their lives for. But you are still fighting. I see you fighting for your space, language, rights and just freedom to be. I’m talking about your basic right to know and feel your own beauty. You are a beautiful black African child.

No one in this world, no matter who they are can withhold your right to living your true life, let alone your right to education. That’s what the old government did; working to make sure the black child would be at the bottom of the food chain. That we never thrive and become what the Creator intended us to be. This is one of the reasons why we make reference to white supremacy. An inheritance that will always be a factor when it comes to our economy.

We struggled with identity at school. Sometimes we won the battle and at other times unfortunately didn't. We struggled with policies, symbols and even language that repeatedly tried to bring us down in our daily lives as pupils, but steadily and slowly we won the battles. We should have never stopped having those conversations and thinking you guys were fine.

As we grew we learned that discrimination comes in many forms and from many different people, even the ones you love. And with that it needs to be dealt with, with a certain level of care. The example I always use when I am trying to explain being compassionate and using empathy when it comes to racism is one close to home.

I always explain that asking black people when they are going to get over apartheid is as hurtful as asking Jewish people when they will get over, Hilter, the holocaust and everything the Nazi's did to them.

I make this vivid example because you need to know that your feelings are valid. You're at an age where a lot of the time your emotions, views and ideas may be trivialised, but your truth is valid. And your truth is so beautiful.

Don't take our baggage as your truth. We have many conversations we still need to have with our peers to truly learn to understand one another. Maybe when we would awkwardly giggle when we were told, “You don't speak like other blacks” we were causing great harm, instead of just simply pointing out how offensive that is. Or when a classmate humiliates you by saying she can't see behind your Afro, the rest of us should point out how malicious that message actually is. Like can't she ask you to shift a little.

But that's the thing about racism or any kind of prejudice. To base your life on projecting hatred to, quite frankly, a bunch of strangers that you have grouped for some reason is terrifyingly stupid. That's why you've got to forgive that. Forgive them. Know why they do it. You don't have to accept why they do it. Trust your heart. It says you are beautiful the way God made you.

Let us deal with what we shouldn't have forgotten. We have to be a part of school governing bodies and attend PTAs to be in decision-making positions to protect you. Adults also need to know that to get a better understanding of what is good for you is to ask you.

Create your own today, tomorrow and history.

Sis U

*Read the full story in this week’s YOU, on shelves 9 September 2016.

More on this story:

SA school’s hair debacle: Solange Knowles gets involved

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

Protests outside Pretoria girls’ school over natural hair rules

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