The Revolution Will Be Hashtagged

#PretoriaGirlsHigh and #LawsonBrownHighSchool have been making waves in South Africa this week thanks to protests over hair rules that were previously enforced in the schools. Many learners have expressed their frustrations and experiences on social media, and these stories have sparked a variety of reactions across the country, many of which I can identify with.

Having been in an all-girls boarding school myself, these rules didn’t come as a surprise. At the time the rules seemed fair and although we complained often, we - by “we” I mean black girls in the school – still obeyed the rules and some even went to the extent of cutting their hair.

The rules ranged from being told that your afro needs to be less than 5cm for it to be allowed and your hair needs to be your natural hair colour. By natural colour they mean black for “black” students, a hasty generalisation given that not all black girls have jet back hair.

What I’m leading to is the role Twitter and social media in general have played in connecting and channeling the conversations in South Africa. Social media has its perks, just like any inventions but this one in my opinion is what makes it so revolutionary.

Before Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform, communities suffered in silence and one was confined to their own space. Revolutions were only witnessed on television, but that has since been "censored" by the government given the strange moves by SABC earlier this year to cut out images of 'violent protest'. We already know that national television can’t be trusted. So who does one trust?

The hashtag was invented by Chriss Messinna in 2007 by suggesting Twitter use the pound symbol (#) to create social groups on the platform.

This idea was initially rejected by Twitter and Chris was told off. "These things are for nerds", Twitter co-founder Evan Williams is quoted as saying. "They're never going to catch on".

He couldn't be more wrong.

The hashtag has become Twitter's watercooler, creating community groups for movements. Perhaps the most famous of which is #BlackLivesMatter, which has come to be used around the world to express the voices of Black people. The #FeesMustFall hashtag was used last year by South African university students to protest about the expensive university fees countrywide.

It is indeed an interesting time those in the digital age. The hashtag has allowed for voices to be heard, stories to be told and change to be initiated. In response to the events at Pretoria Girls and Lawson Brown High Schools, a number of high schools in South Africa have changed their hair policies. Additionally, the Government has initiated investigations into alleged oppression of high school learners of colour. The hashtag is a powerful tool and as we have seen, does promote social change for the better.



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