As South Africa continues to try to redefine itself in the post-colonial era, a group of young, Black women in Johannesburg, are protesting dress codes for pupils at the prestigious Pretoria High School for Girls.
A protest was held Saturday in the city, led by dozens of girls, who protested defiantly at the school’s annual Spring Fair, despite the presence of heavy security. They urged supporters to use the hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh, and a torrent of support poured out on social media.
At issue is the school’s 36-page code of conduct which stipulates that patterned cornrows, decorations and beads, and other African hairstyles such as afros, bantu knots, dreadlocks, and long braids are only conditionally allowed.
“It is unacceptable that in a country in which Black people are a demographic majority, we still today continue to be expected to pander to whiteness and to have it enforced through school policy,” states the petition filed against these policies, which had amassed more than 20,000 signatures by Monday.
The girls have also complained that school officials have prevented many from speaking African languages, and have been called monkeys by teachers when they sing and chant in class. One student also stated that Black girls aren't allowed to stand in groups and are often accused of being too involved in political and racial disputes.
The issue has sparked the attention of local celebrities, and is a painful reminder of the apartheid era when striking students protesting a ban on speaking African languages in schools, sparked the 1976 Soweto Riots, which revived a moribund anti-apartheid movement.
"The fact that Black girls are still having to fight to wear their hair as it grows out their scalp is annoying AF. Pretoria girls high staff you can do better. Hands off our girls. Distracting them from education is what's happening here. White girls don't have to fight to be white I don't see why our kids have to go to school to fight to be Black enough. Pretoria Girls High do BETTER !!!!!" wrote DJ and talk show host Anele Mdoda in a series of fiery posts.
Musician Zakes Bantwini also expressed his outrage, sharing how the incident made him emotional.
After the petition called on Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi to address the controversy, he visited the school Monday, stating that, "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."
During his visit, students demanded that Lesufi ensure the school's code of conduct doesn't discriminate against Black and Muslim girls. They also called for disciplinary action against teachers and other staff members perpetuating these racist policies.
Lesufi will meet with the school's governing body Monday night before any decisions are made.