Lesufi condemns ‘humiliation’ of learner in controversial hair-combing video

Panyaza Lesufi
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, has condemned the actions of an educator who roughly combed a learner’s hair before allowing him to enter the school premises.

The incident happened at Fundulwazi Secondary School in Sedibeng, south of Gauteng.

Lesufi says there are acceptable ways to enforce school policies and rules. He, however, doesn’t approve of humiliating learners because it could lead to suicide.

It’s not the first time that the natural hair subject has sparked debate about how it’s received at South African schools.

Tamia Nkosi is a mother who is raising her children to love and embrace their natural hair texture. Nkosi says she watched with horror the clip of an educator forcefully combing a learner’s hair while others look on as they wait to enter the school premises.

“Those are our boys. They are beautiful and very presentable. Their school uniform looks clean. Their shoes look clean and their hair looks nicely trimmed on the sides and I don’t understand how harshly they are treated. Is there no better way that the situation could have been handled?”

Nkosi says those making the rules in society need to learn about diverse hair types and allow learners to embrace and take pride in wearing their natural crowns.

“This issue has been a hot issue for a while. When it comes to schools, who put together certain rules? Are they put together by us, black people, to say what is acceptable and what is not as black hair in general? That boy’s hair is neat. It is trimmed at the sides. I don’t understand why someone else would put their hands on my child. I feel like a parent would have been contacted about it and had a sit-down. That to me is cruel. It’s actually humiliating. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our hair as black people. As it coils up and takes its natural form, it’s just as the hair is supposed to be. I also have a daughter. There is nothing as painful as (being forced) to comb the hair. It’s painful. They are crying. Who has defined what is acceptable and what is suitable to have as a black hairstyle?”

Lesufi has labeled the actions seen on the video as unacceptable. He says each school has its own policies and code of conduct that are usually prescribed by the school governing body.

He says he’s not opposed to discipline and that he’s asked the school for a report on the public humiliation of the learner.

“It must be seen as either harsh, but I’m saying if you have to disciple a learner, you must be careful how you do it. Our policies are very simple, you have to involve the parent and you have to involve learner and you have to monitor progress. If there is no progress then you have to elevate it to appropriate officials. At no particular stage do we encourage educators to execute a certain disciplinary process. It can be in a form of corporal punishment or other things. Those things are strictly prohibited.”

Lesufi says educators need to tread carefully and that there are consequences for humiliating a learner in public.

“Don’t do it to degrade learners; don’t do it to publicly humiliate them because we have reports where learners are reacting differently. Other learners abscond from school permanently and they end up being criminals or doing wrong things in society. And others take their lives.”

The education department has sent a psycho-social team to the school. This is not the first time that hair issues at schools are in the spotlight.

In 2016, Zulaikha Patel’s public spat with Pretoria Girls High made the then 13-year-old a symbol of the fight against discriminatory hair policies.