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This young girl has had to change school three times because of her hair

A powerful image of a young girl in school uniform standing up to a man with her arms crossed above her head has gone viral. Her name is Zulaikha Patel. And the image of her defying the policing of black bodies has become iconic. Zulaikha’s actions might have been directed at Pretoria High School for Girls, but her story resonates with many others. We tried talking to her, but she was in class. So we caught up instead with her elder sister AMIRA PATEL, about the protest against the school following its treatment of black pupils.

My parents were upset this morning. My dad was particularly angry and demanded to speak to the headmistress. The school was on shutdown at that moment 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.

Zulaikha didn’t do anything for her hair to be like that. I can prove it by providing pictures of her when she was a toddler. She still had the afro. Unfortunately when she was younger, we had to cut her hair because the big afro would cause heat rash.

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.

My mother is also shocked at this point. My sister has gone through a lot of bullying, 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.

She’d cry everyday when I picked her up from 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.

I’m kind of glad that she’s done this but I’m also concerned about how it’s going to affect her emotionally at a later stage. I know her, she’s a very fragile person. What led to her to actually start this movement is the pain that she’s felt when looked down upon, constantly feeling like she needed to be accepted or change herself to be accepted.

She’s been sitting in her room for the past two weeks, studying the school code of conduct. She asked me for information on human rights and children’s rights as well. Imagine that? She later shared the information she got on her own and I was surprised. At the time, I didn’t think it was as serious as it is now.

The hair thing was not much of an issue when I was there or maybe we swept it under the carpet. Overall, the school’s code of conduct is biased and one-sided; it’s not a system or book of rules that can fit everybody.

Parents wake up at 5am to stand in the queue and register their children into these schools. We fight for our children to be there because we know these as good schools. I myself went to that school and having gone to that school has paved a lot of ways for me. I want the same thing for my younger sister too.

When such things happen, you begin to question whether this is what we signed up for. Whether this is the best school for girls.

Have you experienced similar discrimination at your school? Talk to us. Email thedailyvoxteam@gmail.com, tweet us @thedailyvox.co.za or Whatsapp us: +27  76 430 5905.

Featured image via Twitter

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37 comments

  1. More power to Ms. Patel, her family and her movement.

  2. I saw this on AM news on the sunshine coast Queensland Australia today. It seems like racism is alive and well.I lived in Africa, coming from Germany from age 5 to 42. starting 1950’s. I was first introduced to racism in Sasolburg in those early days by a white SA (I’ll call her lady) who told me I shouldn’t play with the black kid’s next door.( the domestic worker’s children) Shocked & confused because I was having a great time. Three years later the family moved to ,now Zambia where my schooling was completed.In the 1970’s moved to Zimbabwe where my wife and I had the privilege of adopting an abandoned black African baby girl aged 2 months .As she was growing up we encountered numerous looks of disbelief from the white African community when I carried her through town on my shoulders.To get to the point, my wife mostly went through the experience of dealing with African hair. No easy task to say the least. The hours of plaiting and braiding were a real apprenticeship.I usually ended up burning the hair ends to seal them while my wife took a break to recover her hands. I can understand a white African’s viewpoint on neat hair but realistically they have no clue as to what they are saying when it comes to African hair. If the person making the decision to intimidate black African schoolgirls, he/she is only perpetuating the ultra-conservative, ill-informed small minded thinking of an outdated, inflexible bygone society. He/she is evidently looking after their job, NOT their community. I sincerely wish the girls every success in feeling comfortable as they should, going to school to be able to further their education. Best wishes, Mike

    • Mike… it’s a flippin hair extension. Not her real hair. She attends school normally for a period and then stirs the sh1t by putting on the wig. It is all politically motivated and she is only a pawn in the ANC’s game plan. The ANC is in deep sh1t at the moment, with just about everything and they are setting up smokescreens all over the country to take the heat off them. This kid is simply one of those smokescreens. If she decides to play along with the charade then she doesn’t deserve the best of anything 🙂 Perhaps you should dig a little deeper 🙂 🙂

      • Hey Rother … You are a fucking disgrace. What do you mean by “it’s a flipping hair extension? You obviously are a racist person who fucking has to check his ancestry and get the hell out of Msanzi! For crying out loud what does a 13 year old know about politics, how dare you politicise this you motherfucker son of a boer!

      • Maleshoane Ntsaba

        Please sort out your ignorance before commenting on things you have no knowledge about.
        Zulaikha’s hair is very much real. There is not even an inch of extension in her hair.
        The only political motivation here is that we are tired of always comprising our blackness for white supremacy

      • You’re stupid for posting such I’m sorry but you’re just stupid

      • Is this guy crazy? Does he personally know this girl? And what is her affiliation with the ANC?

  3. I recently shaved off my relaxed hair because I felt it was high time I showed my natural resources to the world. As black we were created that way why change it to please others.Let’s all support that young girl I just love what she did .

  4. What has happened at girls high is a tragedy. I stand with the girls of girls high. I say that they must wear their afros and natural hair with pride no one will take that away from them never. You touch a woman you touch a rock. Black girls unite stand against racism. We are one. Our hair is the reflection off our paid they can never take that from us.

    #stopracism

  5. Maretha Laubscher

    How sad that this beautiful young lady should have to go through humiliation at the school. It is a brave stand she is taking and her issue is one that should have been dealt with twenty years ago when apartheid was slain. Parents then should have claimed the new rights of the constitution and have the school rules changed. I admire her for her courage and wish her well.

  6. Black people are strong! We do not cower from sticky situations like some did.I think Zulaikha did the right thing because it will teach whites a thing or two. Why do black people have to be discriminated against? Black people,Stand up with pride and don’t be afraid to be yourself!!

    #Racismmustfall
    #Stopracism
    #Zulaikha

  7. It’s about time we put a total end to racism in SA schools. We must immediately do away with all the White teachers. We must allow only Afro or dreads hair styles. Fees must immediately fall and the school must immediately become a no fees school. All staff appointments must be first approved by SADTU. That would teach all the White racists a lesson!

    We must throughly transform the school and maybe rename it after Zulaikha Patel.

    After all so many schools must be unacceptably racist if a girl need to change school three time and still find her hair does not meet with their requirements so we must transform all those schools.

  8. White boys should be allowed to grow their hair down to their waists if they want to. That too is natural.

    • It’s a girls school so there are no White of Black boys there until transformation stops the discrimination against trans gender individuals.

  9. The lord says we should be natural . And the girl was not treaterd fearly……………………………………I say let the love be unite and let’s love one onther and see that the girl did not make her hair grow like that ………………..the girl wants to be actccepted………………………right nw her heart is broken which made hair stand . She what’s to lean and be as part as everyone . Let the love of the lord our God bless us and let us be as one and be a one nation………we are all here to live not to fight. #ZUlaikha am sorry for being hurt , I will pray and hope that you heart is as happy as anyone in the who would like to be happy.##############ZuAiKha

    • You’re correct…. she didn’t “make her hair grow like that” She went and bought the wig and clipped it on. Check your facts before posting. No need to pray anymore.

      • R u the teacher in that school? You clearly know your story. As for political orchestration, who are her parents, the president?

    • ‘the Lord’ is also a colonial import, decolonising will require you to abandon Christianity.

  10. I found this story through news blogs and I must say that each of those protesters need to be commended for standing up for what is right..and in the case with the young womens afros.

    As some people have mentioned on here and beyond,it seems that the condemnation of Black hair is an attack on African and Black diasporic culture. You can’t walk in an airport, workplace military and school without White society picking on your hair. Not too long ago,I was reading about a Black American woman who walked away from the military for not changing her natural hair. Just to think here was this woman serving in our ( USA) military only to be told that she can’t serve because of her braids.

    Those young women in those Pretoria High pictures are beautiful and so were their afros. I envy them and if I had the hair that they had,god knows I would show it off for the world. My mom has worn an Afro for almost 45 years and I look at her with pride. Wearing Afros isn’t a trend,its about culture.

    That why I love being a Black woman..there is so much beauty into who we are.Whether you’re from South Africa,Canada,the United States, South America or Europe were beautiful. Just because a person may not see it the way we see it doesn’t make them ugly..or
    ” untidy”.. as those young women was accused of being.

    I love being unique and wouldn’t change for the world.

    • Sorry to burst your bubble but that is a hair extension. It is NOT her real hair. So …. in reality ….. you people are highly anti wigs ….. because that is what everyone is talking about…a friggen WIG !!

  11. * Typo*

    Far as the Black American soldier,she was discharged from the military.

  12. Just for the record…… that “hair” is a hair extension …. a wig ! She has been attending school as any “normal” student. Suddenly … she decides to put on the hair extension again. It is NOT a race issue, NOR is it a cultural issue ….. it is a “Let’s start some sh1t” issue. Her action has been politically orchestrated to stir up sentiment as well as to get the ANC government involved. This is a MASSIVE smoke screen to deflect issues away from Zuma, the Guptas, Gordhan, failing state owned enterprises etc.
    Take a step back and appreciate the bigger picture.

    • The main allegations are that educators are traumatising black teenagers with racist and hurtful talk. The XL hairdo is unacceptable in all schools. Ms Petal should try that stunt at a school in a black township – she will be informed in no uncertain terms that she must have a haircut. Two wrongs do not make a right. XL hair at school is wrong. Racism is wrong.

      • U are very right 2 soweto highschools have backed the PHSG, saying they dont allow any briads where the PHSG actually mad provisions for braids and corns go and look at the rules, her parents are at fault here,…she had to leave 3other schools!!!! But yet this one is racist….she said the teachers said it looked like a birds nest….my own hair which is also woes, also get that comment….then I dealbwith it….I dont take it as racist or as an attack on my personality…her parents are at fault.

    • Its not hair extensions your just making this false information up to hide the major issue which is clearly racism in south africa, if you dont like then why dont you go back to where you came from?

  13. Being a hairstylist the first thing we taught in college is the different hair types we get in this world. I am a “Caucasian” female with thick natural curly hair. Personally I love my “bush” or “Bob Marley” hair as it was refered to at school in the “apartheid ” years!! I work with many “ethnic” ladies in my industry and often ask my colleagues to stop braiding and grow their natural afros which personally I think are beautiful!!! I think what the teachers are trying to do is just let the girls look neat at school… not that afros are untidy but they can grow quite big if not trimmed and groomed like any other hair. I myself was told often in the 80’s and early 90’s to control my bush so I really don’t understand why those rules and same rules today can’t be applied to any race attending school!!!! Why do south Africans which is what we “all” are!! Make everything about racism!!! It’s been 22 years post apartheid and it’s very sad that the young people of south africa are still hung up on old governments mess!! Really think that our rainbow nation should move on and concentrate more on a new government that does not ro it’s people!! Open your eyes people….. Their are so many hungry jobless people at every traffic light!! This issue is for the teachers and principles of our governments school’s to sort out with the parents and scholars! Take care of our teachers before they all immagrate and our children have unqualified people teaching them!! Education more important than hair type!!!

    • Irene I so wish that you understand that not everyone in Africa wants to be Europeanized and to be judged according to the European standards. You have your own way of doing things and so are the African. Africans want to look, dress and live the way that they want and if you guys do not like that then why not go back to where things are done your own way. These girls are sick being treated like the send citizens in their own country. Me and you know very well that it is not about the hair, neatness and stuff but it’s about the whites being to be in control of everything. That time has gone you just have to accept it .

      • That is very ironic since the anc are in charge of the education for the last 25 years, the fact that she had to change schools 3 times says alot that the parents do not abide by rules either….a well maintained afro would not have caused any issues…..but she was let to do hernown thing by her parents, …the rules are there for a feason to give standardization, this is gonna cause social divide in many aspects, these hair extensions im sure afe not cheap just like having a colour done or highlights, so to the poor girls who parents are not well off will be made to feel interior, cause hair styles will change everyweek to the ines that can afford it….rules are there for a reason….this is not about race….andbibwish people would stop jumping on that bandwagon….mybother question is then why werent the other 3 schools racisist…why now…and why in her protest did she say she didnt like the new. Mayor of Pretoria…..make u think hey.

        • The standards should match the demographic. Blacks are a majority let them decide what the norm is. This should never be up to a minority.

  14. Look all u racist stupid pricks… the children want to wear their own natural hair the way it naturally grows so if u r white and u feel black peoples hair r too bushy or too large… then u a narrow minded racist fuck who cant accept that we’re all different and ur way is not the only way. Now shut the fuck up cos u dont understand and u dont want to understand. We know that these schools subject children to ridiculous rules that have nothing to do with their school education, rules which dont apply once u reach varsity or in real life. End racism cos its a racism issue

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