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The ‘big African’ hair debate

SHARE   |   Friday, 07 June 2019   |   By Lame Modise
The ‘big African’ hair debate

Call it what you may, nappy, kinky or Afro; this hair attributed to people of African descent has become a source of outrage.

The 21st century has brought about a new ‘black awareness’ phenomenon where people are obsessed with their identity and being true to one’s self.

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What better way to express one’s identity than with their crowns – the natural Afro that for eons, women and men alike were taming with chemicals and heat processing to make it more straight and easy to manipulate.

The revolution has, apart from making Africans and their descendants proud of their locks, caused a global debate, a recent one being in neighbouring South Africa where a school’s decision to discipline a learner following an altercation with a teacher involving her hair, styled in a high puff.

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The trendy hairstyle earned the standard 9 pupil detention. The young woman’s teacher had reportedly told her that her hair was "distracting and attention-grabbing".

Abrasive as it was to some, Hyde Park High's decision sparked a fury amongst black people in the country who pushed back at authorities regarding the issue. Actress Florence Masebe took to social media to air out her outrage with a post calling out for the implementation of a national hair policy. The Actress had said it was time to stop treating black people's hair as "unacceptable".

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"We clearly need a national hair policy - one that doesn't treat black people’s hair as unacceptable. We can't keep returning to the same argument every few weeks," she was quoted on her twitter page. She called on to the policy makers to intervene as the school’s governing bodies are far from winning the fight.

Taking it closer to home, local government schools have always had strict rules pertaining to how young girls should wear their tresses. Though not the norm, some teachers have been known to take scissors to the heads of students who were seen not to be compliant with the rules.

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Personally, I have had measurable run-ins with the authorities (school managements of the various schools I attended) for my hairstyle preferences. It was always a mammoth undertaking to balance between what I wanted within the parameters of what was allowed. I recall one time having to go back home to change my hairstyle because I had “crossed the line” with my braided hairstyle, a protective style for my then natural hair, which was also regarded unfitting if left as was. Government schools have a no nonsense policy when it comes to using braids or any extensions in the hair.

Then began my struggle with keeping natural hair, a battle I have come to realise is being fought by every other person who opts to grow their hair naturally.

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Weighing in on the issue, Wada Busani – natural hair enthusiast and Director of Ludo Beauty – believes more people are now going natural after seeing the damage that chemically processing their hair brings. She also finds it preposterous that society still arm-twists people into doing things against their will.

“I find it completely sad and disappointing how women and even children are sometimes forced to straighten or alter their hair from its natural state so as to “fit in”, positions the passionate Busani.

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She strongly believes that the notion that natural hair is unprofessional is absolutely false as it can be well kept just like any other hair type. “All this does is show the younger generation to not love themselves, and that African hair doesn’t fit the beauty standard. This is wrong and we as Africans need to be proud of our God given hair,” she stresses, adding that we cannot simply accept the world telling us that our hair is not beautiful or is unprofessional because once we see our hair as professional the world will have to accept it, stating that, “Young women are rejecting these standards and are now wearing their natural hair at their schools and work places.”

“They are starting to understand how toxic ingredients can have a negative effect on a person’s overall health in the long term. We’ve been hearing how fibroids are linked to some chemicals in relaxers,” she states matter-of-factly.

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 She also believes that with the knowledge, women and men are opting for healthier hair care options and most importantly, going natural.

“With this internet age the world has become smaller in the sense that we have access to a lot more information that we weren’t previously exposed to,” she continues.

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She contends that women did not struggle to embrace their natural hair but rather struggled to manage, maintain and take care of natural hair properly, something arising from limited options for natural hair care.

“The internet exposed us to ways in which natural hair can be more manageable, products to use and certain tips and tricks on how to take care of it,” she adds.

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She recalls growing up feeling that her natural hair was just too painful as her scalp would always be in pain, leaving her in tears after a visit to the hair salon.

“Relaxing it at the time seemed to be my only option until I learnt how to manage my natural hair and now I haven’t touched relaxers ever since,” she rejoices.

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Ludo, as many of her clients call her, believes going natural is a personal choice and advises that  thorough research should be conducted before making any big decision as going natural is a lifestyle choice one should be ready to adopt for life.

She also cautions everyone to do their research and really understand the impact of using harsh chemicals. For those who have embraced their natural locks, Busani recommends the Ludo Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner followed by the Ludo Detangling Deep Conditioner then lastly a butter or Oil to seal in moisture. For this, she recommends, Ludo Soothing Oil or just plain Shea Butter.

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For her part Nubian Seed Co-owner Tuduetso Tebape posits that the decision to go natural is two folds in most cases.

“Mass participation is more often than not, driven by new trends,” she reveals.

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Tebape theorises that the natural hair craze is influenced by the change in personal care and the beauty industry globally and also that people are not just opting for natural hair but authenticity.

Questioned on what it means for someone to go natural, Tebape reckons it is about bringing about renaissance and the rethinking of black pride and black power, aligning to a general trend in the beauty industry.

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“Our hair forms a large part of our identity,” she cements.

Refuting the assumption that people had not known how to embrace and care for their natural hair; she explains that people have always known that there was the option to go natural but chose not to because of the trends around them, which for the longest time was straightened hair.

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“An expression of someone’s African-ness is a very personal thing, especially when it comes to hair,” she says. She also believes that once the natural hair trend started trickling down from the USA, more people joined in and created a wave of comfortable natural hair enthusiasts and followers.

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She notes that because she markets natural products for the overall health of the body, the presumption is that she would be completely averse to other people’s life choices of using chemically based products. “Nubian Seed has customers buying products for their chemically strained hair, a welcome development as it shows they care for their hair,” she highlights. “I respect people’s choices to use chemicals or go natural,” she stresses before listing the store’s unrefined Shea Butter, which can be used as hair food and as a body butter, liquid African black soap, a mild cleanser that would not strip the hair of its natural oils as well as the in-house Whipped Shea Soufflé which contains Shea butter, coconut oil, morula oil and some essential oils.



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