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School accused of targeting black pupils over natural hair, braids

25 July 2017 - 11:24 By Kgaugelo Masweneng
The school is accused of sending a girl home because of her 'inappropriate' hairstyle. File photo.
The school is accused of sending a girl home because of her 'inappropriate' hairstyle. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

A woman has accused a school in Gauteng of policing black pupils’ hair after her niece was sent home over her “inappropriate” hairstyle.

Siyabonga Ngwenya said on Facebook that her niece and other girls at Windsor House Academy in Kempton Park were kicked out of class and told “no girl will come back with that hair” on Monday morning.

Ngwenya claimed that the school’s principal‚ Mariette van Heerden‚ has constantly policed black girls’ hair at the school.

“I’m at a loss and although we’ve ranted about this‚ black girls’ hair is still being policed in schools. My niece said all the girls with braids‚ dreads and 'inappropriate' hair were summoned and were proceeded to be told off and at some point she went off on a rant calling them amongst other things: idiots‚ demotivated‚ failures and when one of the girls called her out asked her where they would feel inspired with a headmistress like her - she flipped and went on another rant‚” read the widely shared post.

“The girls were then made to write letters to their folks promising to adhere to school rules - she took those letters in and told them she won't be taking any calls from parents ... and sent them home.”

My niece has not cut or changed her hair because we didn’t send her here for hair advice or to be bullied but to learn.

On Tuesday morning‚ Ngwenya went to the school to get an explanation.

“She’s in class as we speak. My niece has not cut or changed her hair because we didn’t send her here for hair advice or to be bullied but to learn. She tells me that their morale is low - how are you happy to come to school when you are treated and spoken to like that?” Ngwenya told TimesLIVE. 

“Yesterday I was angry but somehow not surprised. The headmistress has been known to pull stunts like this‚ and worse‚ on the girls. Well‚ my niece has been there since grade 8‚ so we deal with it on a regular basis‚” Ngwenya told TimesLIVE.

The pupil’s mother‚ Nonceba Ngwenya‚ said she had decided to fight for her daughter and other children.

“If the principal has a problem with black hair‚ she must tell us. This is infuriating as I don’t understand why she is harassing our children like this. The worst part is that she doesn’t want to take accountability. She’s rude and disrespectful to parents‚” she said.

“On Sunday I braided my child’s Afro because sometimes the principal kicks them out because of their natural hair. But she decided to gun for the braids and left natural hair this time. My child is in grade 12 and this interrupts her learning.”

The principal said the matter had been blown out of proportion as there are rules and the learners should abide by them.

“I’m not going to deal with the media about this. There’s a code of conduct and both the learners and the parents signed it‚” said Van Heerden.

In August 2016 pupils at the Pretoria High School for Girls protested against an instruction given to black students to straighten their hair.

After listening to the pupils’ complaints‚ Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi resolved that the section of the school’s code of conduct pertaining to hair would be reviewed.

The report‚ which was given to Lesufi last October‚ said many of the allegations made by the students were true.

It found that teachers at the school had enforced the school's policy without sensitivity‚ that black pupils were singled out in class to demonstrate ethnic origins during apartheid‚ but white pupils were not asked to do the same‚ and that in one incident black pupils were called monkeys.


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