-- Vivian Nurse Mongwe's office is in the middle of Eroloff Street's
promenade, one of the busiest pedestrian walkways in the city.
works outside year round and sets up shop between street vendors
who hawk ripe fruits and cheap clothing. Mongwe is a street hair
braider, skillfully using her hands to meet black South Africa's
growing demand for ethnic-inspired beauty.
around the city speculate that for many black South Africans, the
end of Apartheid signaled the end of being ashamed of black culture.
With political freedom, has also come the freedom to express external
pride in being black. And, at the center of that expression is the
business of hair. It's bringing life not only to a beauty conscious
people, but also to a largely unskilled black labor force. As South
Africa approaches its second multi-party elections in June, the
hairstyles of voters standing at the polls will likely look a little
more trendy, a little more ethnic, a little more proud to be black.
1994 in South Africa, the people began to be proud of themselves
because before that we were made to believe in the European style
of beauty," said Jabu Stone, one of South Africa's leading
authorities on natural hair care. "People started to be themselves
and to be proud of who they are and to realize that their culture
is what they can sell to the outside world."
who was recently honored by leaders in the Eastern Cape as one of
South Africa's leaders of black culture, is widely known for his
work with dreadlocks, braids and plaits. He runs a business that
makes hair products for natural hair and a school that teaches aspiring
beauticians how to work with natural hair. He thinks natural hairstyles
best showcase true African beauty and is convinced that the present
consumer interest in the hairstyles is more than a passing trend.
styles are here to stay," said Stone who often receives requests
to service people who live hours away in the Eastern Cape, Durban,
and Cape Town. "I'm not doing anything extraordinary. I'm doing
what people used to do. Because of the Apartheid era, people were
taught that to be black was a sin. All I'm saying is forget that.
Let's go back to who we are."
Nkabinde said that her choice to lock her hair had more to do with
restoring health to her hair than exhibiting cultural pride or following
was breaking so I started to just do the locks," said the 25-year-old
woman from Natal. "They have been around for a long time. I
Gaehler, a mixed-raced woman who manages a popular salon in Hillbrow,
said since the elections in 1994 the way women look on the streets
the past you never used to see black women looking so smart. I know
the South Africa black woman as a big fat momma with short hair,"
said Gaehler. "It's not a thing that has happened over night
but they have become beauty conscious."
son Lino owns the salon and the pair pride themselves on providing
innovative styling techniques and excellent customer service - service
which their clients say keeps them coming back for more.
make sure you are satisfied. Even if it's full of people they will
give you better service than other salons," said Jackie Selma
a 31-year-old pension fund worker. "They are colored (mixed-race),
but they do very good hair."
like in the United States, black South African women are now finding
that beauticians of different races are expanding their services
to meet black hair care needs. In one phenomenon, many former white
hair salons have been taken over by black owners and clients. Still,
it is price, not race or location that determines whom consumers
choose to service their hair.Both Stone and Gaehler service their
clients in upscale salons, and charge prices ranging from 80 Rand
($13) for a basic perm to 180 Rand ($30) for dreadlocks. Many consumers
must stretch their monthly earnings, which are usually around 2000
Rand ($300), to meet other needs and find that street stylists offer
the same service as salons at much cheaper prices.
prefer salons," said Prudence Khumalo, a 22-year-old student
who was purchasing hair extensions to have her hair braided. "If
you're out there (Eroloff Street) everybody is staring at you."
Khumalo's planned to have her hair braided on the street, admitting
that street "salons" were cheaper and provided excellent
street stylists specialize only in braiding hair since the absence
of water makes doing relaxed styles impossible. Long-time braider
Mongwe said prices are so low on Eroloff Street because of the stylists'
fierce competition for customers. Each day at least 20 women gather
alongside Mongwe. They usually arrange themselves in groups, which
Mongwe said are often formed along nationality lines since most
street stylists are foreigners who have come to South Africa to
find work. To lure passersby, each woman holds a photo album with
pictures of hairstyles she is able to braid and asks prospective
customers to take a look at what she can do.
believes she's got the competition beat. Unlike most of the other
braiders, she owns her own indoor salon. While two stylists operate
the salon in another part of Johannesburg, she braids hair on the
streets. Male street barbers are not as aggressive as their female
counterparts. They pitch little tents on the sidewalks and hang
posters with hairstyles from black hair magazines from the rails
of their tents. Many street barbers are foreigners as well. Thirty-three-year-old
Kingsley Ashaneso, a native of Nigeria who powers his clippers by
running a power cord from his tent into a neighboring church, said
cutting hair helps him to survive.
are no jobs, and the people here they like looking neat. If you
want to go to the shops to do your hair it's going to be expensive,"
said Ashaneso as he gave a customer an English cut, or standard
fade. "Here we charge 5 Rand (83 cents), and in the shops they
charge 25 Rand ($4)."
former journalist depends upon his clientele to help him pay his
rent, 560 Rand ($93) per month, and to save enough money to leave
place is not very busy," said Ashaneso of his work site. "Sometimes
I get 10 Rand ($2) a day, sometimes 100 ($17), sometimes nothing.
Everyday cannot be the same. That's just how business goes."
for now, hair stylists said the business of doing hair is at an
all-time high. Consumers can't agree on why this is so. Some said
experimenting with their hair is about getting back to their cultural
roots, while others admit they are following fashion.
people do it more for fashion. I've done it just to improve my hair,"
said Busi Peter, a 22-year-old former student who was getting single
braids on Eroloff Street. "It grows faster."
Khumalo, whose boyfriend helps her to chose her new extensions from
Kinky's Boutique agrees.
not a cultural thing," said Khumalo of her new hairstyle. "It's
definitely a trend thing."
for some, wearing braided hair is simply a healthier alternative
to wearing relaxed styles. This is true for Yolisa Ndaba, a 20-year-old
student from Pretoria who has hundreds of single braids.
got tired of relaxing, so a girl did it for me in the hostel,"
said Ndaba. "It's for everybody."
is evident is that the business of styling black hair is booming
and that black South Africans now sport locks that celebrate their
ethnicity. Shop owners, street stylists and consumers agree that
the days of assimilating to Europeans standards of beauty have passed.
to Apartheid, I never knew that there were such lovely people in
South Africa," said Gaehler. "But black is definitely
beautiful. It's a pity they found out so late."