For many teenage girls, nothing is more sensitive than the way they feel about their appearance. In South Africa, race has been added to that delicate equation.
Last month, black students at the prestigious Pretoria High School for Girls protested a clause in the school’s code of conduct that banned wide cornrows, braids and dreadlocks. It wasn’t a new policy, and many South African schools have enforced similar rules before. But this time, girls pushed back — and their complaints touched a nerve.
The school, which was an all-white institution until the mid-1990s, dropped the restrictions a few days later — but not before triggering a debate across the country.
“They make it out to be about grooming, but it is about race,” says Lesley Chandata, a black woman from Zimbabwe who waits tables at a pizza parlor outside Cape Town.
Photo: Alan Greenblatt for NPR Caption: Zia Simpson, a student and sales assistant in Cape Town, says even her father tells her to tame her Afro. “That generation fought against apartheid, but they still carry around the mentality that green eyes look better on a person, that straight hair looks better on a person.”