Collegiate Girls High School is one step ahead of the pack, having revised its code of conduct and rules regarding hair in June last year.
Deputy principal and head of discipline Derrick Jordan said the school had looked into the rules after a parent and a pupil raised concerns.
“The parent wanted to know if her child’s dreadlocks were a problem and we realised that we did not know, and we approached a group of black girls to educate us on the matter,” Jordan said.
“We were also very concerned that our code of conduct regarding hair did not accommodate our black girls, and had a long conversation with the girls.
“They guided us in terms of what’s acceptable and what is not.”
The group of girls was led by deputy head girl Somila Mavuso.
“Many girls would be told to relax their afros to make them flat, which was not right because that is not our hair’s natural state,” Somila said.
“Girls would also be punished for the size of their braids.
“We were very happy when the school engaged us on hair because girls were unhappy, and more than anything it was with the way they were told rather than the instruction itself.”
Somila said she stood in solidarity with the Pretoria Girls’ High School pupils who earlier this week protested against rules relating to hair, which they said were racist.
“I was touched when the news broke on social media because I don’t understand how their hair can [affect] the way they learn,” Somila said.
Grade 12 pupil Lilodwa Mondi, 17, said she had not experienced any racial bias when it came to hair.
“If you voice your problem, it gets dealt with in a fair manner at our school and I feel like the teachers listen to you and act accordingly,” Lilodwa said.
Victoria Park High pupils said their school’s code of conduct was changed two days after the Pretoria Girls’ and Lawson Brown high schools’ protests.
The girls, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were surprised and pleased that their headmaster had been so open to changing the rules.
A pupil said: “Our code of conduct was drawn up during apartheid and the white girls were told they could not have afros. Now we are here and we are black.
“We were surprised at how reasonable the principal was because we thought it would be hard.
“This [hair rules] has been an issue at the school for a long time and has been a point of discussion since February, and last Friday we were told the word ‘afro’ would be taken out of the code of conduct,” the pupil said.
Another pupil said she did not feel the rules had any racial or sexist bias.
“The principal showed us pictures of white men with afros, where he was saying it’s not a race thing,” she said.
Victoria Park High School principal Mike Vermaak said he was very proud of the school for resolving the matter peacefully.
“We are fortunate to have an open rule policy and learners who respect each other,” he said.
Pupils at two other prominent former Model C schools not being named as the principals were unavailable for comment were, however, less than impressed.
A Grade 9 pupil with an afro said: “As African girls we are not allowed to do much with our hair. They [the school] complain about thick braids and how big our afros can be, so we have limited options when it comes to our hair and that makes me pretty angry.
“Today [Friday] a teacher walked into the class and said my hair looks like a scarecrow’s hair, in front of the entire class, and that made me feel so sad.
“It is not the first time she has said this to me. The principal didn’t seem to have a problem with my hair,” she said.
Another Grade 9 pupil said her issue was about the different rules for different races.
“The Indian girls are allowed to dye their hair – they will maybe get into trouble for one day but then that’s it.
“We as African girls on the other hand are told to dye it back to black, which I find very unfair.
“Once I made my own hair into a side fringe and was told to change it but there are other girls who have their hair hanging in their faces and nothing is said about it,” she said.
At another suburban school, dreadlocks, hair colour and braids were the focus for many girls, who felt the rules were unfair and racially biased.
The school’s code of conduct states girls’ hair must be neat and the colour must not attract undue attention.
One of the girls said the rules were general and were not racially biased on paper. However she felt the problem lay in the way they were carried out.
“I have curly hair and the ends are naturally blonde but I have been told to dye my hair to brown. They have this belief that if you’re black you can only have black hair,” she said.
“Most of the white pupils dye their hair brown and blonde and when it grows out it looks ombre [lighter coloured at the ends] and they don’t have a problem with that but when coloured and black girls do it’s a huge thing.
“In that sense the rules are racially biased and it’s unnecessary.”
She said even though she had never personally been insulted she felt bad for pupils told to tie up their hair when it was too short to do so.
For a Grade 11 pupil dreadlocks became an issue.
“When I got dreads they told me I’m not fully black so I can’t get dreadlocks.
“One teacher stopped me and said she didn’t know much about the rules regarding dreadlocks and told me to ask a black teacher for advice.”