702 radio presenter John Robbie got a bit of a tongue lashing after suggesting that braids on black women were not always pleasant.
This was in the wake of the racism furore at the Pretoria Girls’ High School, where black female students were allegedly told to straighten their “untidy” Afro hair. Gauteng MEC for education swiftly went to the school to investigate the matter.
In a protracted radio debate, former Pretoria Girls’ High School matriculant Mishka Wazar told Robbie that, “as a white man”, he had no right to comment on how black women could do their hair. The popular radio presenter insisted that there needed to be rules of some sort at institutions of learning.
“I did attend the Girls’ High [Pretoria Girls’ High School] for five years, and I do think that the rules they tend to enforce are extremely stringent and borderline racist,” said the former pupil.
Wazar said her black friends at the time “were not allowed to have their hair in long braids. They were not allowed dreadlocks. They were not allowed Afros.”
Robbie responded, saying “you got to have a boundary somewhere. Because there’s an element of discipline. There’s an element of youthful exuberance.”
“The problem is that we are not talking about youthful exuberance, we are talking about self-expression. We are talking about identity,”replied Wazar, to Robbie intercepting her argument, saying: “But self-expression can also have limits in a school, surely. We can’t have people … you know, half-naked. We can’t have people painting themselves because they want to exhibit self-expression.”
She replied: “I hear you, but the problem is that the self-expression we are talking about is not painting, or doing anything weird to your hair. The self-expression here is about basic cultural identity. The way that you wear your hair. The types of cultural and religious ornaments that you are allowed to wear,” responded Wazar.
“Where would you draw a line on braids,” asked the unrelenting presenter, to the former pupil responding, “I will not draw a line on braids because I’m not a black girl. I am not a black woman. I have no right to talk about black women’s hair.”
“But I have seen braids that look fantastic, and I have seen braids which are so incredibly over the top. That they are showbiz … things with hair all over the place … I can’t use the correct term,” said Robbie.
“John, I think the problem here is you are a white man and you really have no right to comment on black women’s braids, and neither do I.”
“I have no right to comment?! I thought I had a right, when there’s freedom of speech to comment on anything,” replied Robbie, who sounded distressed.
“Well, you tell me what I have a right to comment on, Mishka,” he added.
“You really have no right to comment on very specific lived experiences of marginalised and oppressed groups in the country.”
South Africa took to Twitter, shortly thereafter, with many labelling Robbie a “racist” for his comments.
John Robbie says “I doubt anybody from #PretoriaGirlsHigh would say they're a racist school”. Which racist has ever said “Yes, I am racist”?
— Anele Mkumla (@anelemkumla) August 29, 2016
People like john robbie and gareth cliff zapiro et al are racist and call it freedom of speech.
— Bongo (@venfoloism) August 29, 2016
— Mr_KaizerChiefs (@mandla9April) August 29, 2016
This John Robbie will come on radio tomorrow morning and apologize and the radio station will ignore all his racist utterances
— Pavg = VI cosφ (@Sibusiso_Mbokaz) August 29, 2016
The Citizen’s reporter, Virginia Keppler, reported that pupils at the school said teachers told them to straighten their hair, and that they looked like “a birds’ nest” and that one pupil “looked like a sheep”.
— Virginia Keppler (@VKeppler) August 29, 2016
There were also allegations of a far more serious nature, including the k-word being used and pupils being called monkeys.