JOHANNESBURG, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Sitting in a hair salon as
a stylist braids her natural hair, Sana Sebone recalls a time in
2013 when she worked on a construction site and was told her
dreadlocks were too long and represented a hazard.
She was upset, she said, mainly because her white colleagues
with long hair were not told the same as their hair was
Seven years on, that term is haunting her again after an
advert was released by TRESemmé, a Unilever
brand, describing images of African Black hair as "frizzy and
dull" and "dry and damaged" while a white woman's hair was
referred to as "normal".
"It really upset me," said 30-year-old Sebone, who turned to
dreadlocks after tiring of straightening her natural hair to
make it look "presentable" in others' eyes.
Unilever has apologised for the advert, which it admitted
was "racist", while TRESemmé South Africa and Drugstore Clicks
Group, on whose website the advert was posted, have
"We are in the year 2020. How ignorant can you be to still
think Black women's natural hair is ugly, is fuzzy and is all
those negative words?," Sebone said at the salon in Midrand, a
suburb in northern Johannesburg.
The advert caused an outcry on social media and sparked
protests led by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters in a
country where unfair treatment of people based on their hair
evokes painful memories of prejudice during apartheid, which
ended in 1994.
In those years, a "pencil test" was used to determine
someone's racial identity: A pencil was inserted into a person's
hair and if it did not fall out, that person was considered not
"Our forefathers have fought this. Are we still fighting
this? When will it end?," said 48-year-old Nomsa Nyathi as she
sat under a hair steamer at the salon.
Black hair is still policed in places like schools, where
Black girls with natural afros or dreadlocks are sometimes
suspended for not "wearing their hair right" or are asked to
straighten their hair.
"Everything about being a Black female in South Africa or
even in the world screams 'You're not good enough, you don't fit
in here, you're not wanted here'," said 42-year-old Ntombenhle
Khathwane, founder of Black hair products brand AfroBotanics.
Khathwane herself remembers being told in high school that
her dreadlocks did not align with the school's neatness policy.
Unilever has pulled all TRESemmé products from South African
retail stores for 10 days. Its South African unit has moved to
set up an advisory board and a diversity committee.
(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo
and Hugh Lawson)