#StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh is just one example of the frustration of black learners in high school

Where the blue of heaven is deepest. Every person who attended Pretoria High School for Girls knows the opening to the school song. But for many, myself included, PHSG became a version of hell on earth.

On Saturday the 27th of August, Pretoria High School for Girls held its annual Spring Fair, where members of the public are encouraged to attend and spend time at the dolled-up school, eating food and playing games while the students work at the stalls and rides brought in specially for the day. It usually goes quite smoothly and brings in funds for the school. However, this year, Spring Fair saw protest action.

A group of young students had organised a silent march around the school to protest against rules and regulations on the hair of black students. The march was organised as a reaction against weeks of administrative interference in students’ lives. Marchers stated that in prior weeks, other incidents involving black girls’ hair and allegedly racist and inappropriate comments by teachers created an increasing frustration among the students. During a civvies day last week, a group of students wearing all-black clothing and doeks were surrounded by school guards during an outdoor assembly, because their clothing was regarded as “politically motivated.” At the Fair itself, there was a large number of armed police and a K9 unit, which have never been present before.

As a former student myself, I can attest to the fact the PHSG has numerous unnecessary and indirectly racist (not to mention sexist, homophobic and transphobic) rules regarding hair, clothing and religious and cultural ornaments. The peaceful march ended abruptly when teachers and volunteering parents intervened and threatened to call the police to arrest the girls, most of whom are in grade eight.

Social media exploded on Sunday evening when videos and photographs of the events were circulated through Twitter and Facebook, sparking yet another necessary conversation about the state of coloniality which continues to pervade South African society post-1994.

The incident at PHSG is not isolated. The frustration and helplessness that these students feel are not limited to this school. The attitude of South African schools, in particular former Model-C schools, and indeed the South African education system as a whole, is racist and steeped in coloniality and imperialism. The constant policing of the clothing, hair, bodies and behaviour of women of colour takes its toll on the psyche of young girls, who must begin to unlearn and recover from their education in the tertiary sector.

At these schools, we are taught to aspire to whiteness. White femininity if the beacon of success. Aspiring to white femininity means changing your accent, your dress, your hair, your body and even the way you think. As a young, impressionable adolescent in high school, you don’t realise you are being brainwashed, and you can’t fight back because your white teachers have too much power over you. So you sit, and listen to the insults to your intelligence, your background, your race and culture and religion, and you begin to believe them. You begin to assimilate to white culture. But it’s never enough. You will always be a few steps behind, because you are not white.

The recent efforts to decolonise the tertiary education sector seems to have trickled down into high school. More and more young people are refusing to bow down to the colonial and imperialist structures that have held us in its grip for centuries. It is inspiring, it is disarming, it is terrifying. The powers that be within all structures are continuing to bar changes. We see this with the increasing number of interdicts being placed on universities such as UCKAR, and the use of police violence and shooting at universities such as WSU.

It is terrifying that a 13-year-old girl in school uniform needs to cross her arms at an old white man to defend her blackness. If thousands of young adults in university are being silenced, what chance do these teenage girls have?

Featured image via Facebook

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24 Comments

  1. Thabo Borole says

    hello welcome to a awakening giant people have to move out from their closets and address this monster failure all of us are going to suffer

  2. Sally Field says

    Jesus christ, bring back corporal punishment, these spoilt upperclass brats need a reality check. I got shat on at Jeppe Girls for having dyed my hair black. These witch hunts are only harming racial tolerance in this country, these girls a little ethnic nationalists, just like the Afrikaners were. Besides. afro’s are western centric, why don’t they embrace their African culture.

    1. Nabila says

      Dying your hair is not the same as wearing your hair natural and protesting limits of being able to wear your hair as its naturally sits doesn’t make someone an ethnic nationalist. I would also be pretty pissed if someone expected me to straighten or change my hair to fit in with their ideas on what is appropriate.

      1. Sally says

        I was also pissed at 16 that my school didn’t allow me dreads (i am white and Afrikaans que white privilege tirade) hence the artificial dye. Point remains this is not racial and those girls are, perhaps unconsciously, tapping into an ethnic nationalist narrative that is tearing the cosmopolitan nature of south Africa apart. They should instead protest child abuse, which is rife in our shitty school system.

        1. Sally Field says

          And BTW dreads are also a natural way to wear white hair, yet it’s not allowed for us?

          That kid’s hair is really beautiful but really, this kind of shit is starting to seriously get on my nerves. That school is obviously a creative prison and going there must seriously suck, I know having suffered a similar fate, but ‘anti-black’ and ‘racist’, I think not. I have no sympathy for this shit when it becomes this politicized and quite frankly I rate the Gauteng MEC of Education should stop wasting his time on a kids fucking hairstyle or some creche that supposedly didn’t give a kid a cupcake and do his goddam job. I don’t even know why I pay attention to this shit or even read any article on this website, jokes on me I suppose.

          1. Anon says

            Eish, I couldn’t have hair like Ms Patel’s, even if I tried. I’m losing it and fast. A hair cut is so expensive these days so I just let mine grow in winter and I have it cut once a year at the start of summer. #BIGH HAIR #PGHS

      2. PIET says

        just saying did you see the size of the afro…no offense on a sat or sunday or civies day it would be beautiful, but how is the poor student behind her suppose to see the board….lets be real people…its about rules and regulation and some white people have woes hair as well, but we adhear to rules otherwise pay the consequences,.this was never a race issue but made into one cause one couldnt get her way..and the parents accept it….discipline and obey rules starts at home and not in the classroom.every one blames white colonist rule but the ANC has been in charge of the dep of education know for 22 years…….there was nothing wrong before, all of a sudden its a race issue..GIVE ME A BREAK…its about following rules…..that what rulkes are there for and every time the race card comes up, the people in top positions jump and give in, meanwhile this was never about that..not everything is about RACE..its ridiculous that every time there is an disagreement that this must be the casue….

        1. Anon says

          To be honest, I’ve never seen local black girls with such big hair. To be even more honest, I have only seen black school girls with very neat but smart hair and I often remark to myself that these kids are very admirable. With the exception of Ms Patel, I have yet to see a girl go to school with size XL afro. When my family member saw Ms Patel on tv yesterday, he burst into laughter. The sight of the huge hair was unbelievable and no school, even the most liberally progressive would condone this size hair. To give the kid credit, a hair cut is very expensive in Pretoria. The Competition Commission should initiate an investigation into collusion and price fixing amongst Pretoria hairdressers. Really, it is so bad that I wait to go down to good old Durbs for an annual haircut.

  3. Anonymous says

    Enough of this racial crap. PHSG is a school steeped in tradition and therefore they are only policing the tradition’s of the school and ensuring they stay steeped in tradition. Everything doesn’t always have to be racial so get over your immature problems and grow up

    1. Thando says

      The thing is, traditions change, especially if they promote a bias. The rules that were set when only white girls had excess to the school ought to change if they do not accommodate black people. Look at it objectively and you will see the racial bias that exists within the so-called traditions.

    2. Anon says

      Excuse me, PGHS’s traditional policy is for girls to submit to hiding their beauty behind pony tails. Big Hair is BEAUTIFUL. Why should a tradition of hiding girls’ beauty be condoned and continued in democratic SA? If we want peace, non racialism, reconciliation and genuine transformation, going the open beauty route is a MUST. ALUTA CONTINUA THE GIRLS OF PGHS! Our beauty is a right, not to be hidden behind pony tails. We will not submit! #FUTUREHAIRSTYLIST #BIGHAIRDO

  4. Geraldine says

    The curriculum has already been dummed down 50 notches so I think the majority already have done quite a bit to change the education system & break away from the colonist oppressers lol! Maybe they need a reality check & do some research on what’s going on at public schools. They should be thankful for their safety & the rules that keep that institution running smoothly. But it seems some are determined to drag every facet of first world life into the bush. Schools cannot enforce any rules & the kids call the shots. Now take that same attitude to a model C school & call it racism. Yes so put our already dwindling quality pool of teachers under even more stress, make this profession as difficult & stressful as possible because its the kids that rule & if you put one foot out of line you’ll be branded a racist or whatever colour you are, you have no authority. Those girls need a slow clap hand of applause for doing their part to ensure our children go to schools, regardless of how much money the fees are, that they run the place & disrespect is your right.

    1. Anon says

      Big hair is okay. Let Ms Patel be. She’s a born leader fighting for her right to big hair. She’s SA’s Malcolm X. I’m gonna build an airport and guess who I’m gonna name it for.

  5. Ra'eesah says

    OMW what happen to a NEAT ponytail for school for ALL race??

  6. malefetsane says

    I don’t see any thing wrong about that girl’s hair…cuz she feels comfortable with it…

  7. veda venter says

    This school was open to all races from the beginning. It was a flagship school in embracing all cultures from the start. Its way never been a white school. How can a school that has been voted best school for two years running by the public now all of a sudden be the worst of worst. This is hurting so many people. Hair rules have always been there. There aint a school since forever that don’t have hair rules.

  8. Anon says

    If a girl wants big hairdo, then leave her be. #FUTUREHAIRSTYLIST

    1. Sally says

      Well, this sentiment I can get behind. 🙂

  9. Julia Garcia says

    It is truly saddening to see all of your racist comments. The fact that you all cannot comprehend the gravity of the situation is pathetic. How is it acceptable for white Europeans to come to a land, colonize it, terrorize its natives, and force a way of life onto them? It’s 2016 for Christ’s sake. Is it not time to shed this antiquated, white washed, colonial mentality and embrace diversity? These girls should be celebrated for their natural beauty, their culture, and their backgrounds. And the systematic racism that continues to rear its ugly head prevents that.

    After all of this, all you can do it call them brats, make fun of their hair, and complain about how things are hard for white people as well? People like you all are the root of the problem. You imbeciles should be ashamed of yourselves.

    1. Sally says

      Listen here I am neither European, nor do I own property, I have never stolen anything, I have never ‘terrorised a native’. So what are you even talking about??? Belonging to a race does note make me guilty of war crimes. I have rights in my country if birth and accusing me of such viscous things assumes that I should some how be held accountable for them. To be held accountable for war crimes would necessitate a trial.

  10. Motheo says

    We all need to understand the lived experience of the girls in these protests. I for one go to a private school which I thought was all inclusive when it came to my hair requirements but I’ve come to realize that, for example when a friend of mine showed up to school with strands of white braids she was politely asked behind closed doors to remove them, oh but there’s plenty of white girls, roaming the school hallways with patches of green hair and red hair, multicolored hairdos but never have I ever encountered one little white girl being politely asked to not dye her hair. It is this type of bias these girls are speaking out against. It is this subtle hint of privilege we must fight. Yes ANC has been running the show for 22 years but Apartheid and Colonisation has been part of South Africa for more than 100 years hence the need to fight against this bias.

    1. Sally says

      LOL!!# I was told I couldn’t dye my hair at a former modal c school. I am a ‘little white girl’ so kiss.my little.white ass.

  11. Anton Roberts says

    Any issue can be addressed using either a constructive or a destructive approach. Discussing this issue with the school management, can be seen as constructive. Physically impacting on the running of the school, as well as impacting on their main fund raising event of the year, are extremely destructive.

    The world are made up of choices, education is a right, but this does not need to happen at this school. Whoever attends the school, have the free choice to move to another, if the rules and structures do not suite you.

    The school also have the right to decide who it wants to attend it – through its Code of Conduct. Don’t be malicious, if you cannot function in this school, move to one that suits you / you feel comfortable in.

    You do not need to stay in PHSG.

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