The South African Department of Education’s current public school’s code of conduct restricts and regulates students’ hairstyles. This restrains students’ symbolic speech, constitutional rights and enforces the ideology that straight hair is more accepted in society.
‘Shedding some sun light’
Many schools have hair policies that stem from a society structured by apartheid and colonialism. In apartheid the pencil test was used to categories people into racial groups. When African countries were colonised many individuals were forced into a system of slavery. Many colonists removed slave’s hair because they thought African slaves’ hair was unhygienic. We are currently living in a democratic country yet this narrow thinking was enforced in a school in Gauteng in 2014.
Annelize Horn was found guilty of calling out black female learners, with relaxed hair, during assembly for the having ‘dirty’, ‘greasy’ and ‘smelly’ hair, implying that the learners did not practice good hygiene. The students were sent to the bathrooms where the ‘Sunlight hair washing humiliation’ had taken place. According to Mpho Mahonko a student at Wordsworth High School Dr Annelize Horn, handed the pupils Sunlight dish-washing liquid and ordered them to wash their “greasy hair”. Mpho told News24 she was bothered by the fact that Horn addressed only black girls about their hair and that Ms Horn didn’t asked them why they relax or applied gel to their hair.
This length to which schools go to police students’ hair can result in low self-esteem of student and cause them to believe that straight hair is more accepted in society. Hair regulations at schools protest the freedom to practice symbolic speech within school and govern learners’ personal appearance.
Nwabisa Mazana, a UCT student majoring in media and witting, shared her own experience of her high school years, where she was reprimanded in high school for dying her hair black while white student who had highlights were not reprimanded. She further stated that ‘all school hair policies causes segregation”.
Symbolic speech is an action one takes purposefully and noticeably to convey a particular message or statement to those viewing. For example Azania and his family are Rastafarian and have dreadlocks which are a visible symbol of their beliefs.
Azania Stofile started grade 8 at Bulumko High school in 2016 and was suspended on his arrival due to his dreadlocks. When Azania’s mother asked why her son could not attend school with dreadlocks a teacher said: ‘If he is not smoking ganja (dagga), he is going to start selling ganja in the school’. The stereotype that all Rastafarian’s sell marijuana and let their children smoke is carried within many societies. In Azania deference his mother said he could get a drug test done. The reason Azania couldn’t cut his hair was because the Rastafarian religion believes that the cutting of one’s hair is disrespectful to their bodies. Unfortunately, Azania is not the only Rastafarian student who has been suspended from school and forced to face a School Governing Body to explain and prove their religious beliefs. The fact that students who do not conform to the code due to religious reasons need to justify themselves makes them feel unaccepted, more so if the reasoning is based of stereotypes about their culture. For more read here
“Does one’s hair affect one’s ability?”
Ciara Blignaut a UCT student majoring in Gender studies and film was asked her opinion on the two cases and she stated the following,
“It is unfair that in the current democracy young high school students are still facing discrimination against their hair type and culture. What was done to Azania and the female students at Wordsworth High School was degrading because not everyone has the same hair”…“Does one’s hair really affect one’s access to education and ability?” – Ciara Blignaut
Ciara question is one that should be asked by many school governing bodies when dealing with student who do not conform to there ideals of neat and clean. Ms Horn was suspended and Azania was accepted back to school. unfortunately not all cases end this way as many students’ go unheard.