News Brief

Pretoria High School Caves Under Pressure—Suspends Racist Rules on Students’ Natural Hair

“For instance, some educators tell them they look like monkeys, or have nests on their heads.”

Who ever said protesting is a tired practice? I may have been guilty of doubt, but news that the provincial education minister Panyaza Lesufi has ordered the suspension of rules that allegedly discriminate against natural hairstyles at Pretoria High School for Girls in the administrative capital of South Africa gives me renewed hope—at least in social media’s capacity to amplify protest.


A quick bit of background: The school was founded in 1902 for whites-only and continued that way through the apartheid era. It has since become integrated; however African students have alleged teachers at the school have demeaned their natural hairstyles, and banned them from speaking indigenous languages on the campus. That’s why outraged students organized a silent march in protest at the school’s annual Spring Fair on Saturday, which drew armed police response and quickly boiled over to social media under #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh by Monday. The protest even inspired South African renaissance man Modise Sekgothe to pen a poem in their honor, and elicited a tweet from South Africa’s arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa.

And black students at a second school in South Africa, Lawson Brown High, raised their voice in protest for similar discriminatory hair rules.

In response, Gauteng Department of Education released a statement Tuesday, saying it had learned of the black students’ allegations regarding wearing Afros and speaking in African languages after Lesufi visited the school and has called for a formal, independent investigation and review of the Code of Conduct—which by the way, doesn’t prohibit natural hairstyles explicitly, although it outlines details regarding length. This suggests the teachers may have pulled these “rules” out of thin air or at least applied them arbitrarily. Smdh.

The department states on Facebook, “The learners feel that educators use abusive and demeaning language when they address them regarding their hairstyles. For instance, some educators tell them they look like monkeys, or have nests on their heads.” Ridiculous.

A statement on the school’s website adds that the school’s governing body has agreed to work with the department to “resolve the issues which were raised.”

And they had better because this new generation of black girls aren’t playing with racist policies or police—they’re fearless, vocal and magic.

Interview
Photo: Jolaoso Adebayo.

Crayon Is Nigeria's Prince of Bright Pop Melodies

Since emerging on the scene over two years ago, Crayon has carved a unique path with his catchy songs.

During the 2010s, the young musician Charles Chibuezechukwu made several failed attempts to get into a Nigerian university. On the day of his fifth attempt, while waiting for the exam's commencement, he thought of what he really wanted out of life. To the surprise of the thousands present, he stood up and left the centre, having chosen music. "Nobody knew I didn't write the exam," Charles, who's now known to afro pop lovers as Crayon, tells OkayAfrica over a Zoom call from a Lagos studio. "I had to lie to my parents that I wrote it and didn't pass. But before then, I had already met Don Jazzy and Baby Fresh [my label superiors], so I knew I was headed somewhere."

His assessment is spot on. Over the past two years Crayon's high-powered records have earned him a unique space within Nigeria's pop market. On his 2019 debut EP, the cheekily-titled Cray Cray, the musician shines over cohesive, bright production where he revels in finding pockets of joy in seemingly everyday material. His breakout record "So Fine" is built around the adorable promises of a lover to his woman. It's a fairly trite theme, but the 21-year-old musician's endearing voice strikes the beat in perfect form, and when the hook "call my number, I go respond, oh eh" rolls in, the mastery of space and time is at a level usually attributed to the icons of Afropop: Wizkid, P-Square, Wande Coal.

"My dad used to sell CDs back in the day, in Victoria Island [in Lagos]," reveals Crayon. "I had access to a lot of music: afrobeat, hip-hop, Westlife, 2Face Idibia, Wizkid, and many others." Crayon also learnt stage craft from his father's side hustle as an MC, who was always "so bold and confident," even in the midst of so much activity. His mother, then a fruit seller, loved Igbo gospel songs; few mornings passed when loud, worship songs weren't blasting from their home. All of these, Crayon says, "are a mix of different sounds and different cultures that shaped my artistry."

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