While at Rhodes University Dr Hugh Masekela had an interaction with Thandi Bombi whereby he refused to take pictures with her because of her weave. Below is her personal opinion on the events that transpired that day.
You may be on tour, living your life, continuing to inspire millions and making news headlines for being a legendary musician with controversial thoughts about hair; but I would like to let you know that your words were not wasted. Your will was done, and I, Thandi Bombi, have changed my hair.
The news reported what you said to me: “You’re lucky that you were sneaky enough to have him take a picture of you next to me, otherwise I would have refused. I don’t take pictures with girls who have your kind of hair.”
These reports; however, failed to mention that you told me that, if I had at least washed my hair you would have considered taking a picture with me. It was also omitted that later on that evening, you announced that you would hug me, but it made you very uncomfortable because of this hair that you didn’t like.
So the next morning, while you went on with your life I woke up, went straight to the hair salon and changed my hair. I was so embarrassed and ashamed after all those comments that I didn’t want anyone to recognize me as the girl that the great Hugh Masekela had called out.
An influential man indeed.
Now, as I think back to that moment, I wish you would have seen more than the hair on my head. I looked at you with eyes filled with admiration, my smile could not be contained and the excitement buzzed through me and left my hands shivering and my nerves shuddering at the mere thought of you.
I wish that you could have looked past yourself for a second and maybe you would have seen me, a fan, a follower, a young woman who aspires to one day have the same kind of influence that you have. I have now realised that it was not my moment and therefore, even if you looked at me for hours on end, it would be like staring into a mirror and seeing yourself, your image, your reputation, your influence, you…
It is for that reason that I would like to apologise for approaching you that day. In my naïve state I forgot that appearance is everything. The same way that a woman with a weave appears to be negligence of her African identity, you being seen in a photograph with her is a battle lost in preserving this African identity.
I apologise that I had not seen your interviews on hair before that day, that I had not prepared myself to be in your presence and made myself worthy. I apologise that as woman I can’t see past my own struggle to be the colonial subject with my straight hair (that obviously symbolises a type of whiteness in me) and therefore I cannot see the importance of preserving my African-ness.
My biggest apology is on behalf of all the women who waste endless amounts of money on weaves and hair extensions every day in an attempt to create a beauty that is not natural like yours. I have realised that we should rather spend this cash on keeping our natural looks (because dreadlocks, and Afros and cornrows are very cheap) and maybe save the rest, or even use it to buy your wonderful music.
In changing my hair I apologised for who I am and what I had chosen to represent me, so it is only fitting that I apologise for all of these other things to. I am writing this in the hopes that it reaches you, because I believe you deserve to know about your victory. You used my respect for you as a weapon to bully me into thinking your opinion matters. I have since realised that my opinion matters too and if you are going to say things like:
“If we were to start worrying about colonial things we would be walking around naked”,
then you either have to strip out of those fancy clothes that you are wearing or keep quiet and let the ladies with the fake silky, long hair wear it in peace. Even you don’t have the right to decide when it’s okay to throw away African Heritage.