Karabo Mokoena
3 minute read
23 Apr 2021
1:44 pm

‘Refuse to erase your blackness’ – Zulaikha Patel talks new book

Karabo Mokoena

This World Book Day, Zulaikha Patel chats to us about her new children's book on hair pride.

Hair activist Zulaikha Patel has written a children's book. Image: Instagram @zulaikhapatel


Anti-racism and social justice activist Zulaika Patel has written and published a children’s book that aims to instil confidence in young black girls with big hair (crowns). She calls it My Coily Crowny Hair.

She wrote the book when she was in grade 11 in 2019 and the book was published in 2021 through Lingua Franca Publishers, illustrated by Chantelle and Burgen Thorne. The book’s foreword is written by actress Nomzamo Mbatha.

Patel was introduced to South Africa and the world as a 13-year-old girl who stood at the forefront of protests against racist hair policies in schools. With her big crown on her head, she held her hands high in defiance of taming her big afro due to school policies. Demonstrations across the country broke out in 2016, continuing what Patel and her peers sparked at Pretoria Girl’s High School.

When CNN asked her what inspired her to lead the movement, she said: “It is about to time the cries of black children across the country be heard.”

Girls reported being told by schools their hair was too ‘exotic’, dirty and needed to be either cut or relaxed.

Like many black girls, Patel says: “I went through a phase of straightened hair from grades 4-6. I thought I would fit in, without realising I was assimilating to whiteness.”

To date, hair politics continue to be a topical subject in schools, even in the adult world.

In My Coily Crowny Hair, Patel takes the reader through a journey of seven-year-old Lisakhanya who grows up unashamed of her afro.

Patel’s mother continuously affirmed her beautiful hair, but she says: “I struggled due to the environment I found myself in. With schools regulating my hair, I was unable to be proud of my hair and feel confident. I want to teach girls that their hair is worthy and beautiful.”

The regal approach

“I want black girls to know that we come from royalty.”

That’s why Patel chose the title she did, the story line and the marketing strategy. On her social media accounts she is draped in a dress that is “elegant and regal”. When young girls read the book, they see how Lisakhanya drew strength from an African queen, her mother and grandmother – a powerful lineage of African royalty.

Patel was introduced to literature at a very young age and this played a major role in understanding the country and the world better. His father’s involvement in the struggle also gave her first-hand information and encounters with racism.  Knowing that she could not be seen with her father, an Indian man married to a Ndebele woman, has fueled her passion  for anti-racism.

Patel is adding her voice to the echoes left by an apartheid system that has taught black girls to change something about themselves in order to fit in.

Kings and queens don’t have to fit in anywhere. They are perfect just the way they are.

“Now, girls can see their reality in the pages of books in a positive light,” she says. Lisakhanya is a happy spirit, and for her, there is no place to be African than in Africa.”

This is why Patel encourages parents to get this book so that young girls can see there is nothing wrong with them, even if they may find themselves in spaces that make them feel there is.

Pre-Orders for My Coily Crowny Hair are available now at CNA.