Amid the controversy surrounding protests at some South African schools by girls fiercely demonstrating against compulsory stretching of their hair and, more brutally, reports of people being attacked and having their dreadlocks forcibly removed for resale, the natural hair evolution has engulfed Africans the world over.
Men and women are increasingly consigning their weaves and clippers to the archives.
A 26-year-old first-time business owner, Boitumelo Phatlhane, has exploited this gap presented by the global movement in the beauty industry and started Afri-Fro Salon, a fast-growing unisex hair business in Braamfontein in the heart of Joburg.
“I’m not a hair person,” she claimed, highlighting how her studies were not related to the salon.
“I don’t even know how to do hair,” claimed Phatlhane, an economics graduate.
For decades black people’s hair has been hidden under foreign hairstyles, weaves or chemically disciplined to conform to standards of what was considered acceptable by the legacy of colonisation.
“I don’t think it (natural hair) is a fashion. It’s something that is here to stay,” she said.
“People now love their hair for what it is,” she added.
“It doesn’t matter if I can’t or don’t like hair. It’s about business and there is a vision here, there’s an opportunity in the market and I need to take it,’’ she told her family who were astonished by her choice of industry.
The embracing of natural hair in South Africa has not only given birth to opportunity in business, but has also displayed symptoms of mental decolonisation.
As they did in the quest for political freedom in the 1970s, students have played a significant role in the defence of their hair and it has erupted into heated protests.
A momentous occasion led by the youth was the student protest at Pretoria Girls High School.
In August last year, the school had instructed students with afros to chemically straighten their hair as failure to do this was considered to be obstructing the school’s code of conduct.
An unsavoury trend that has left many sceptical about growing their hair is the theft of dreadlocks.
Phatlhane denounced the thuggery.
“Criminals are not cutting people’s hair because they enjoy it. They do it because they need money,” she said.
“It’s repulsive that people would stoop that low, but it also speaks to the state of the country,” she added.
With the hair revolution still finding its feet, minor hiccups are also surfacing between stylists and naturalists, resulting in minor disagreements.
Stylists often find themselves in predicaments with clients who bring forth unrealistic expectations, often created by internet diagnosis and misinformation on their various hair-care needs, goals and maintenance.
To make up for her lack of expertise, in addition to good business acumen, Phatlhane has hired individuals with expertise.
Among those is Sindisiwe Nkambura, a dreadlock specialist who has found a home at Afri-Fro.
“I haven’t been here long, but I love it here,” she said.
Aqualine Chatapura, the company’s supervisor, said: “I studied hair for three years. I can tell you everything there is to tell about hair.”
Popular styles include Madiba line (inspired by former president Nelson Mandela), faux locks, 90s' box braids, Havana hair, braids and Bantu knots.
Meanwhile, the Masai twist has taken the country by storm. It’s a hairstyle popular in East Africa, an all-season style that was once exclusive to Masai warriors.
A reversal of roles has also emerged.
Male braiders are demystifying the stereotype that the hair-braiding trade is for women.
Among the men to have made an impression in the previously female-dominated industry is Michael Saningo, originally from Tanzania.
He specialises in Masai braids, a centuries-old tradition in his tribe.
There, males have their hair braided during the stage of warriorhood. It is braided into intricate patterns.
To Saningo, this is a four-hour job, much less time taken than by some female stylists, who can take up to two days to do the job, according to clients.
And if clients’ sentiments are anything to go by, the men do the job better than women.
“I prefer to be braided by a man because the twisting of the hair is done using a thigh as compared with the hand twisting, which takes longer.
"Those braids are also not durable,” said client Kefemetswe.
Female braiders conceded that the raise of male braiders had stiffened competition.
But in the spirit of entrepreneurship, they are determined to improve to remain relevant in the industry. - CAJ News