Some students, parents and at least one official in South Africa have all called out a local all-girls high school's decision to ban all natural hairstyles, including afros, calling the action racist in nature. The response from the community in Pretoria has been resounding after Pretoria Girls High ordered its students to all have their hair straightened, the BBC reported.
"Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African identity," Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said Monday via Twitter.
The news sparked a social media hashtag of #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh ahead of the local province's education chief's scheduled visit to the school Monday, which is likely a response to a petition calling for him to mediate the growing controversy, South African news outlet Times Live reported.
"These are issues that you can’t just leave to chance. Let me go there‚ allow the school to present their side of the story but at the same time allow learners to put their side of the story‚" Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi said Monday. "I really want to arrest the situation before it gets out of control."
The school's code of conduct references how the hair of its students should appear and does not specifically ban certain natural hairstyles — such as "Cornrows, natural dreadlocks and singles/braids" — although there is no outright mention of afros. "All hair must be brushed," the code of conduct says under the "General appearance" portion. "No eccentric/fashion styles will be allowed," it continues, leaving some wiggle room for interpretation.
Racism in South Africa is fairly prevalent, according to an op-ed recently published in South Africa news outlet News 24. In June, Lesufi was himself the subject of racist attacks on social media.
The practice of banning natural hairstyles is far from exclusive to Africa, as one high school in Kentucky was called racist after it prohibited students from sporting dreadlocks and cornrows.