South African Girls Protest Their High School Against Racist School Hair Rules


There is a revolution happening in South Africa right now and it is being lead by children. 13-year-old Zulaikha Patel, is one of the students who lead a protest against the discriminatory hair police at the Pretoria Girls High School (Formerly a white-only institution in South Africa).

Zulaikha and her classmates staged a silent protest against her school starting on Saturday when they had a weekend fair. She has had to change schools three times because her hair did not ‘fit’ the code of conduct and to say she and her classmates were sick of it, is an understatement.

For Zulaikha this is about: “Fighting for every Black child in this country, because it’s time for our endless cries to be heard.”

Pretoria High School for Girls


Via gave some background to what the children have been enduring:

The 28th of August 2016 marked a turning point at Pretoria High School for Girls. In a school where stories of racism and injustice from black girls are usually met with silence from the staff, this time, our silence was met with police and dogs.

In 2015, a black student in grade 10 was told outside an exam venue that she had to “fix” her hair. With nothing to fix, she entered the exam.

She was further told by a staff member that she would not be allowed to write her exam with her hair “like this”. This same student was, in a different incident involving a different staff member, told that her natural hair looked like a bird’s nest. Both members of staff involved have faced no visible repercussions and still stand to teach young black girls every day.

Between 2015 and 2016, a now grade 11 student was hissed at by a member of staff outside her office and told to “comb your hair, it looks terrible”. When the student combed her hair, the teacher was further disappointed that only the length of the hair had changed and not the texture. This same student has had her hair referred to as “kaffir hair” by two separate staff members.

In 2016, two grade 11 students were conversing in Xhosa during a lesson where the staff member had stopped teaching and all pupils were chatting freely (some in English, others in Afrikaans).

The staff member singled out these two girls and asked them to “stop making those funny noises” because it was making her uncomfortable in our English medium school. This same staff member has also referred to dreadlocks as “dirty old braids.”

In the school hostel, a staff member reprimanded a girl for wearing a doek, calling it inappropriate for dinner and against school code.

Stripping the doek of all its cultural meaning and significance with one remark. Hostel students have been told that spaces largely populated by black boarders resemble squatter camps, and told to comb through their hair with dirty combs pulled from old storage boxes before they could come downstairs for dinner.

Incidents like these occur on a weekly basis at Pretoria High School for Girls. White students lovingly refer to Girls High as “the most fair and just” school that they know.

They tell us racism doesn’t exist because they’ve never experienced it. Meanwhile, black girls live in fear and discomfort at existing in their skin in that same environment… the one that they trusted to keep them safe. Its clearer now more than ever that black and white girls may sit in class together, but we don’t experience the school in the same way.

protest 5

So during the week of the 28th of August: that is who we became. Black girls mobilised to stand as a unit and show Girls High that we see each other and they need to see us.

Girls came to the school on civvies day with the intent to carry on as normal while wearing all black garments and doeks.

Instead of attempting to start a meaningful dialogue, security guards loosely patrolled the outside assembly. Girls wearing doeks that sported the ANC logo were pulled from assembly and taken into the headmistress’s office.

Teachers told learners in classrooms that they felt threatened and scared. Because black girls in colourful doeks are something to be feared. After school, groups of black girls were repeatedly told to disperse because they “appeared to be conspiring”.

protest 3

The general consensus of the demonstration on Friday was that we were seen, but not heard. And this was unacceptable. So, once again, black girls mobilised.


We decided that during the school’s annual spring fair, we as black students would meet at the netball courts to hold hands and walk to the front of the school. No shouting, no dancing, no struggle songs.

A silent walk of sisters, hand in hand. Before the group could get a head start, the security guards shut the gates, forcefully pushing girls backwards and reporting the procession as a “snaakse groep”. When the gates re-opened, attention was on us. Girls proceeded to walk to the front of the school and upon their arrival were met with a police car, extra security force and members of the governing body threatening to arrest girls as young as 14. All the while raffle tickets continued to be sold in the background.

In a scenario that should have sparked more anger and unrest, there was a weariness. A sense of fatigue. We were shown, once again, that our voices don’t matter. That our anger is unfounded. That our emotions are an inconvenience.

When we were taken into an empty classroom to have a “discussion” with members of the governing body (who proceeded to tell us that we didn’t need to “add on” to already discussed issues and that cultural appropriation should be seen as a compliment), we felt ourselves being swept under the rug again. Our collective story was just another to be lost in the school files, labelled “we looked into it.”

protest 2

@UKafrolista weighed in:

A petition calling for an end to racism at Pretoria High has gathered 25,000 signatures. I am so proud of these young women!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here