BY SHARON SIBINDI
HAIRstyle may be a simple fashion statement to turn heads, but for most Africans, it’s the indelible identity of the motherland — kinky, unapologetic and a sign of ubuntu.
For example rastafarian artistes such as Tony Rebel, Buju Banton and Future Troubles, among others, took that vow quoted from the Bible in Numbers 6 verse 5: “All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.”
Their long dreadlocks are a symbol of their faith and identify them as rastafarians. They stand out as Africans with distinct beliefs rooted in, among other things, their hair, which will not be touched by a razor or scissors.
In a nutshell, it’s a vow not to cut hair or get drunk on liquor, especially from fermented grapes.
However, baldies, dreadlocks, weaves, wigs, fasten your seat belts for a spin through this hairy tale as the politics of hair, be it black women or men, debate seems not to come to an end. There seems to be natural versus weaves, wigs turf wars, the black hair politics and the corporate world.
Standard Style spoke to some artistes who shared their views on the issue.
Known for his funky stylish hairstyles, Mzoe7 said people are failing to appreciate themselves and abroad men do keep long hair and there is no offence in that.
“Our fathers and forefathers used to keep Afro and did push-back. Personally I love natural hair. Some wigs do look nice and add a different look to the person,” Mzoe 7 said.
“In some countries they appreciate natural hair, it’s priceless. Some people think it’s an act of bravery or political revolutionary. Some keep it for identity purposes especially the rich African hair look as it stands out.
“It’s funny how some people in the corporate world don’t appreciate the natural black African hair.”
Mzoe7 said people need to embrace their own hair.
“We have been made to believe that other cultures are superior to ours such that our own things don’t seem cool anymore,” he said.
People pass bad comments about hair just because they don’t understand themselves, where we are from and going.”
Natural hair stylist Sofia Saungweme said black women have been told what the standard of “good hair” is, be it family, at work or beauty trends and at school, one has to follow the rules.
“For the past decade, that notion has been changing with each individual realising what they want or feel is a good choice for their hair. Hence, black hair politics. There seem to be natural versus weaves and wigs turf wars and the wars are a result of the politics of black hair. The natural hair sect is ‘woke’ apparently while the weave/wig sect is apparently ‘fake’ and represents conformists,” she said.
“Each of these sect members always want to defend their choices and it never ends peacefully. Have you noticed how in the salon , an expensive weave is given prestige while natural hair is still being treated with disdain?.”
She said many of her clients and friends view themselves as opposing beauty trends, standards or standing out because of their natural hair.
“I believe it’s because it’s deemed as liberating yourself from what the world standard has set,” Saungweme said.
“Well, if you are in the hair business like me, the way I wear my hair builds my brand. I cannot share knowledge or care for someone’s hair without representing the look.
“However, in other business sectors, one has to follow the company’s dress code. It’s not because your hair affects your work, but you have to adhere to the company policy.”
She said views differ and ignorance and classism work to further those differences.
“I hope someday we get to appreciate each woman no matter what her hair looks like,” Saungweme added.
Patience “Pat” Phiri, an entrepreneur, socialite and media personality, said the way she wears her hair identifies her and it’s an extension of who she is.
“I take pride in being an African woman, I take pride in being a representative of my people in Bulawayo, Filabusi and Zimbabwe,” Phiri said.
“Therefore, I showcase how I wear my hair, I want to be identified as an African. So, I wear my hair naturally and I have taken further to covering my head completely because I feel it is a sign of respect to those around me that have gone before me and it is a sign of respect as a cultural woman.
“This is who I am, I am respecting my culture as I go forward, I want to be identified as someone who is not embarrassed of who they are and where they are from.
“So hair is political in that it describes me, so when people see me, they will think I am Afro-conscious. I am very conscious of who I am and very proud of it, which is why l keep my hair this way, I own my blackness, I am proud of my blackness and I celebrate it.”
Club founder of Umahlekisa Ntando Van Moyo said ladies love bald hair and it is neat.
“Bald hair is usually neat and presentable and the ladies love it. At the same time, we will be escaping from mhanza/impabanga instead of developing a bald head. It makes you look younger and the politics of hair comes as a matter of expression. The way you keep your hair makes people identify you. If you keep short hair as a guy you are someone who is straightforward, who is goal-oriented, something like that,” he said.
“For ladies,the longer the hair, the more glamorous it seems.”
Moyo said if a lady is keeping natural hair at times it’s sort of rebelling against a system.
“One will be rebelling against something like the white system and staying true to one’s origins. It’s unfortunate in the corporate world people don’t accept it and they think that people with natural hair are scruffy and don’t sell well brands and they don’t have that approach to be taken seriously,” he said.
“The way that you are going to dress also determines how you are going to keep your hair and people don’t identify like that in the corporate world. Again to me that doesn’t say much about the person’s personality because you find that one with natural hair is more straightforward than people who will be pretentious by putting hair which is not theirs and living fake lives.’
He said in terms of career and performance, guys with short hair usually make it more compared to those with long natural hair or ginger cuts.
“Ginger is usually associated with guys who play soccer. People don’t take them seriously in the corporate world. On the other hand, in the arts industry natural hair is the thing. It differs sector to sector because arts is more accepting and more expressive. That is why some people in the arts with natural hair advance more than those in the corporate world,” Moyo said.
Priscilla Sithole Ncube of Amakhosikazi Media said: “Cultural and biblical hair is associated with strength in the story of Samson in the Bible. Read Judges 13. Weaves do with status and how expensive is my weave if you are wearing 100% ulemali . For me my locks are cheaper than weaves and also l like my natural look.”
It is a different story with National Gallery of Zimbabwe (NGZ) in Bulawayo director Butho Nyathi, who kept his hair after his blackness was challenged during his studies in the UK.
“Before 2017, I used to keep short hair, but when I moved to the UK to pursue my studies, my blackness was challenged and contested. I then sought to have that deliberate projection of my blackness,” said Nyathi.
“For me my hair became a key symbol of identity and having grown up in Zimbabwe my blackness was never an issue. But I get to the UK context, suddenly you realise that your blackness is contested and the moment something is contested, the more you want to project it even more.”
Nyathi said his hair became a political statement to say he is black.
“So, for me my hair was a political statement to say I am black and proud. This is my personal experience as happened in the UK. But generally speaking, in terms of identity making, hair is an easy pick but there is more to blackness than just hair,” he said.
“It’s only that human nature will only pick on the easy struggles and hair is just but one element of a bigger struggle for black identity.”
“So, yes there is that perception that if you wear natural hair, then you are more in touch with your roots and identity, that’s fine.”