"Her name is Zulaikha Patel she is 13 years old and has been forced to change schools 3 times because of her hair."

This is the caption on an emotive picture in which a 13 year old Zulaikha has her hands up in the air, crossed in protest at the administration in her school. If you have been following the previous series on "The Natural hair Revolution” here on SA Positive News, you will realise that not only was this a long time coming but that these issues run deeper than hair.

The hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh has been trending for the last 3 days with tweets that have me wondering why in 2016 any one group of people would still be experiencing such discrimination. @_AtliiMotuku tweeted: "I was told I look BARBARIC for having an AFRO!!!


@Styles_CcMusic tweeted my exact sentiments when he said "It's 2016 and Africans are still fighting to be African in Africa.


Some students have alleged being called such names as "monkeys" and that afro hair and dreadlocks are "untidy". Now let's quickly glance into our country's rear view mirror and deduce how our rainbow nation has become a distorted colour wheel.

In 1994 millions of previously unable to vote black South Africans lined the voting station queues to cast their votes in what would be South Africa's very first democratic election. This first step towards freedom echoed the sentiments of peace that Nelson Mandela stood for. A South Africa United as one people. But it is over the last 22 years that we have come to see the sober reality of the skeletons of apartheid that lay beneath the nation's soil.

Nelson Mandela is known for being the father of peace, Noble Peace Prize winner and first democratic President of a "free" South Africa. Though his dream of a peaceful nation was admirable, South Africa has come to realise that the institutionalisation of this peace never took place. The truth and reconciliation trials were a first step but it never should have stopped there. We are talking about hundreds of years of institutionalised racism. A few weeks of talks would not change the systems that were put in place to ensure that the black man does not excel on black soil.

I recently met with a lawyer lady who told me she can't wear her afro to work or she will not get as many clients. Now how does this speak of a rainbow nation? In a country where unity is being promoted all over the world how can we have rules and codes of conduct that don't cater to all the differences under the South African sun?

These are the problems that arise from the myth of "sameness". People are afraid to admit that it is our DIFFERENCES that make us the same BUT we are not the same. There is no shame in saying that. When we admit that we are different then an education into what the other is and how they want to be respected can happen. When we believe that "we are one" erroneously we ignore the individual needs of the persons who don't fall under the agreed upon categories of "sameness". For example: If a schools code of conduct says "No hair in your face" that is not enough. It should add: "This goes for all hair types whether straight or afro". Why do I say this? Because then the reader will feel like their appearance has been taken into consideration. Furthermore rules such as “Hair may not be seen from the front of your head” are Eurocentric in nature and do not cater to the Afro textured girl.

Take Zulaikha Patel for instance; the only way to ensure that that mass of incredibly thick hair isn't seen from the front is to relax it. The hair texture of Black women differs from person to person according to genetic makeup. Zulaikha is half black and half Indian.  This no doubt has had a contribution in the appearance and size of her mane. Many ladies of pure African decent also have this much hair and more; others have less. But this is exactly why such a rule in a school situated on African soil makes no sense at all!

Rainbows have solid colours that don't try to run into one another. That would cause chaos and would take what is beautiful and turn it into paint vomit. The beauty in a rainbow is the DIFFERENCES in colour that work together to illuminate and beautify the sky. Within our various institutions it feels as though many other colours constantly try to encroach upon the space and existence of one another causing what then become racial spats.

We need more understanding about one another if the myth of the "rainbow nation" can truly become a reality. The MEC for education and the Mayor of Pretoria were at girls high yesterday having what many would call a press conference but what I call an "imbizo"; where people come together to discuss matters at hand. But why did such a problem need media scrutiny before it could be taken care of? Schools have governing bodies do they not? Companies have boards of directors that now have to meet BEE quotas, so there's representation right? No. Once again what is on paper in our country fails to leap into life. Many institutions in our country will have a token "group" or "person" that helps it publicly mimic unity but that said "group" or "person" is never consulted with regards to what their opinion is of how their corporation rules are viewed by said token persons community.

How many people still hold in their institutions whether public or private, corporate or media; separate English and Afrikaans meetings? Is there no way to meet and either speak a language we can all understand or have a translator?  Let's take this even deeper. Why are English AND Afrikaans compulsory languages at school? Why not just English because then no language is left out. See with the beauty of having 11 official languages comes the responsibility of fair representation. I can assure you that after all Afrikaans isn't the most spoken language in South Africa. But this is why late last year students from the University of Pretoria and even Stellenbosch marched against Afrikaans as a language of education in their institutions.

South Africa has not become anti-white but it's not pro multiculturalism either. This isn't to say that straight hair or more European languages must be banned. This is rather to put forward such questions as: Who makes the rules for our institutions? Is there equal representation of people when these meetings are held? Were such codes of conduct penned before or after this country's democracy? If a code of conduct has not been updated since the call of democracy why is that so? Who is in charge of insuring that such sit downs take place?

You see it is very easy to be against such things as affirmative action and BEE and now perhaps the dismantling of the code of conduct of Pretoria Girls High School but why is it that without such drastic action that the powers that be don't make their institutions multicultural friendly autonomously? Until such a timed as this we will continue to live under the false pretext of unity and our relationships with people of other races will continue to be superficial. We are not learning each other. We are tolerating each other. That's why so many insensitive comments are being spewed in schools, businesses and all over social media about the #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh. Many don't get it. Many don't realise that it is a problem that goes deeper than the roots in Zulaikha Patel’s luscious locks. She is fighting against a system that will at every turn try to white wash her blackness for the rest of her life if she does not stand up right now and sensitize many who are unaware of how such rules break down the black child. Enough is enough!

We are in Africa after all. It is appalling that the land of our ancestors is now trying to throw out what it birthed. Living under rules that go against what it bore. I will never forget going to the beach with friends of mine who wanted a tan 3 days in a row and I and another group of friends had to stress that we can't do that. We had to teach that because of our melanin we absorb the sun also known as burning and that we don't reflect the sun. So we sat side by side. Talking and laughing but some in the shade and some in the heat. Though we sat separately no one thought that we were racially divided. We had just learned each other. I understood their need to tan. Not just to be bronze but the enjoyment they had of the sun. And they understood our need not just to not burn but our discomfort thereof.

Next time at a beach with different races we know how to behave. Don’t trivialize the plight of these girls. It's more than hair. They are teaching otherwise ignorant institutions that they are African children on African soil and the rules must cater to them too! If we are going to live together then we MUST prioritize understanding the next person and not constantly aim to understand them from our point of reference. It's time to become enlightened. Join the woke generation!

By Laetitia Vambili


 Laetitia Vambili is the founder of Luv Ur Locks and writes for SA Positive News

Follow her on Twitter: @LVambili

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