Students at Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa joined together in protest today after enduring months of racism and abuse by their white teachers.
“I have a natural afro, but a teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a birds nest,” one girl told Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, who visited the school Monday morning.
The girls say school rules forbid afros, bantu knots, dreadlocks and braids. One student reported that she was given a brush and told to neaten her hair.
Students also reported that they were told they couldn’t use their mother tongue with her friends.
“Teachers find it disturbing when you speak to your friend in vernacular. They say stop making funny noises or you will have to sit in my office,” she said.
A petition was circulated and garnered 4,201 signatures by early Monday morning in which the school is accused of forcing black girls to straighten their natural hair and “conspiring” when standing in groups.
Another student added that the same teacher had a discussion in class where girls were asked to discuss what came to mind when speaking about blackness.
“Coincidentally, only white learners were participating in the conversation. She said things like, when you think of the word black, you associate it with evil, dark, and bad things,” she said.
Some of the pupils broke down as they addressed Lesufi. The MEC and his officials gasped and shook their heads when they heard from the girls. A parent who was present cried.
“I’m truly sorry and I can assure you that it ends here. You have my support and I will protect you. Your pain will never again continue for as long as I’m still the MEC in this province,” Lesufi said.
“It ends here. If there is someone who needs to pack their bags and leave this school, then they will,” he said.
The school has not yet commented.