by Puleng Matsaneng

Our history is throwing us backwards and forwards in many ways. To be more specific: in the last few weeks we have had a number of schools featured in the media for the wrong reasons. In a country where we should be striving for equality across gender and race, we find ourselves grappling with schools which still practice racial discrimination. There is a lot missing in our society. Social cohesion is not happening in the places we would expect it to happen. When our humanity is fully present it will seek to bring our nation together. True humanity unifies people with each other using their individual gifts, languages, cultures, norms and values.

The issue of hair is an old one which our society should have moved on from. The girls affected by the discriminatory policies at some schools were born after the apartheid era. Why is it that our society is still degrading or punishing those who look different? We all have different gifts and talents and these individual gifts and talents should not separate us. They should help us learn from each other and be the key to our wealth as a nation.

The apartheid system created pain and hatred. As a child I can remember that we were not allowed to straighten our hair. Teachers in our schools told us that our hair needed to be “natural”. Combing black natural hair can be painful and complicated. Some days, when I left home, I would have combed my hair but by the time I got to school it would look like short dreadlocks. Hair that looked like short dreadlocks, according to some, looked uncombed and untidy.

Perhaps you also remember the struggles I am recalling here. Black hair was called “kaffer haar”. (“Kaffer” is a derogatory word used to refer to a black person. Its usage was widespread and acceptable in the days of apartheid. “Haar” is an Afrikaans word meaning “hair”.) When I was a little girl I used to ask my parents what “kaffer haar” meant. They explained to me that it was “hard hair”.  I can clearly remember seeing the pain they felt – in their eyes – as they explained this to me. It was as if our hair was not worthy of being on someone’s head. It was seen as being “ugly” by others. It’s time for South Africans to take the time to understand each other’s history and how this still impacts on our society today.

Straight, curly, black or white: we all look different and we all have different gifts and talents. Does it really matter? Should our schools – who shape our future generations – not be focusing on school policies that will bring us together instead of dividing us?

Rules are needed but when they divide us they should be reconsidered. As Christians we follow Jesus Christ – hopefully without hesitating. Jesus’ values are “set” and they will never change. These were given to us from God, with love, and we should be doing the same. We should strive to be loving and understanding like God. We should set rules associated with love and understanding for others.

Ms Puleng Matsaneng
B.A. (Johannesburg)

Puleng works in Spirituality and researches Ignatian Spirituality in an African context. Her area of speciality is in exploring how African themes and practices of spirituality dialogue with the Western traditions, and how that is understood in relation to Ignatian Spirituality. She has looked at how Ignatian Spirituality can be integrated into the African worldview. Most especially, how the use of song and storytelling can be part of the prayer process. She is currently managing retreats in daily life and training prayer guides. Puleng is also involved in ongoing Spiritual Direction, giving 8-day and 30-day retreats. Her latest venture is a pilot programme of healing workshops that use the principles of Ignatian Spirituality.

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