'I need to work': Hairdressers, beauticians still operating despite lockdown rules

Strong demand for beauty industry's lockdown outlaws

03 May 2020 - 00:00 By NIVASHNI NAIR
A barber gives a haircut in his barbershop in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, during the lockdown. He says the income helps him to buy necessities.
A barber gives a haircut in his barbershop in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, during the lockdown. He says the income helps him to buy necessities.
Image: Sandile ndlovu

Some regard it as an essential service - keeping the grey at bay, ensuring eyebrows maintain social distancing and fortifying glossy nails.

So the classification of the hair and beauty industry as high risk and able to reopen only under level 1 of lockdown has spawned an underground tribe of hairdressers and beauticians willing to break the law to make a buck.

In some areas, mobile hair salons are still operational because their owners say they can't afford to close shop and are willing to take their chances.

But these back-door barbers have been slated by their law-abiding peers who want to stick to the rules.

The industry's calls for the government to allow salons to open under level 4 restrictions - with one customer at a time or social distancing on the premises - failed this week despite more than 60,000 signatures on an online petition.

I have been going to clients within my area. I mostly do hair colour treatments and waxing

Already 18% of those employed in the beauty industry are being retrenched and one in four businesses are in the process of closing down. Closures could soar to about 70% if the industry remains paralysed by lockdown rules for 60 days or more.

A Soweto nail technician, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she had decided to operate during the lockdown, even posting on Facebook an offer of a special on house calls. "What must I do? I need to work," she said.

A Durban hairstylist, who has been seeing clients at their homes during the lockdown, told the Sunday Times she had to "take [her] chances" or there would be no food on the table in her Phoenix home.

"I have been going to clients within my area. I mostly do hair colour treatments and waxing."

On Thursday, she made an average of at least R120 each from five clients who needed their grey roots coloured before starting work on Monday.

in numbers

• R250 billion to R300bn - The value of the sector

• 90,000 - The number of people active in the hair and beauty sector

A Johannesburg nail technician started soaking off gel nails for her clients at the start of the lockdown but is now offering a wider range of services. "I can't turn down money when I need it. I know I can get arrested but it's a risk I am willing to take."

Cobus Grobler, national manager of the Employers Organisation for Hairdressing, Cosmetology and Beauty, said enforcement challenges experienced by the government meant such "underground" operators were proliferating. 

"We do not support unlawful activities but understand when people [resort to this] out of desperation."

Thousands of workers in the beauty industry poured out their desperation in submissions to the government. They spoke of losing their rental spaces, not being able to pay staff and closing up shop.

Yeolandre de Beer has been operating her salon, The Spot International Hair & Beauty, in Somerset West for 25 years. Eight stylists and three beauticians work there.

"We are losing thousands of rands daily," she said. "I have to pay rent, internet, phone, electricity, salary with no income. This is impossible."

She and her staff have applied for various forms of assistance, without success.

"We have all been paying PAYE and UIF for 25 years. Now that we need a small portion of our own money they do not even have the decency to tell us why we can't get it. Bottom line is, I will have to close the business and send 11 people home without any income."

Lorine Smit, whose Port Elizabeth salon has been operating for 38 years, said hairdressers were insulted by the government's suggestion that South Africans turn to do-it-yourself kits and online tutorials for their beauty needs. "I cannot believe the lack of respect that was given to our skills and industry with the statement that we must teach people how to use box colour bought over the counter," Smit said.

"We have spent millions in training through the years and have kept up with trends. It's a disgrace that the government is killing our industry. We will never recover."

Vincent Horak, of Serenity Hair Design in Dunvegan, east of Johannesburg, said if salons were allowed to open they would work under strict regulations.

"Salons are one of the most sterile environments you could be in. Everything we use gets sterilised before and after every client. We have the space to implement social distancing between clients and can use disposable [single-use] towels and capes."

The department of trade & industry did not respond to a request for comment.


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