Celebrating her blackness - how Rosie Motene found her roots again

Rosie Motene in her new clean shaven hairstyle
Rosie Motene in her new clean shaven hairstyle
Image: Supplied

For many black people the process of acquiring the perfect sleek hair comes in many burdensome forms.

From scalp-burning relaxers, head- smacking braids or even worrisome weaves, the journey still seems so deeply steeped in acquiring the kind of hair that passes the pencil test long after its extinction.

From Zulaikha Patel at Pretoria Girls High to the young students at Malibu High School in the Western Cape, of late young women have started rising up against the discriminatory regulations surrounding the politics of hair.

This particular journey resonates with author and businesswoman Rosie Motene, who has detailed her journey through her autobiography Reclaiming the Soil.

In the book, Motene even got to reclaim her hair, especially as a young woman who had spent decades conforming to white culture.

“Hair has definitely defined us from an early age. At school we were allowed to plait our hair but we weren’t allowed to have funky hairstyles or Afros,” Motene recalls, noting the emotional weight the Pretoria Girls High protest had on her.

Rosie Motene in her weave days
Rosie Motene in her weave days
Image: Supplied

“I remember reading the article and I called my friend and I couldn’t stop crying because these were the things we were struggling with then but we didn’t have the voice to step up.”

As part of her journey in reclaiming her blackness, removing her weave was Motene’s first step to stripping away the image brought on by beauty standards that were damaging to her self-love.

“I still relaxed it,” she says of her foray into removing weaves from her beauty regiment.

The bold bald-do she still wears today came as a form of support for a friend who had been diagnosed with cancer. However, after walking out of the salon with a friend, Motene realised this was a huge step in redefining society’s control in how beauty is defined.

“I made a point of walking out with my bald head to say ‘this is who I am’. My beauty or my strength is not defined by what is on top of my head. That process, without me even realising, elevated into me discovering this thing of identifying myself as a black person.”

I made a point of walking out with my bald head to say ‘this is who I am’. My beauty or my strength is not defined by what is on top of my head

Motene was brought up by a white family for whom her mother was a domestic worker. In an environment that was not accommodating of her difference, this spun her adolescence into an identity crisis.

Motene spent many nights praying she would wake up as a white girl but since this miracle was never going to happen, her hair was one of the key elements to upholding the beauty standards.

“I might be too dark to fit into the white narrative but I can look as close to them as possible,” Motene recalls.

While the likes of Patel have become the faces of movements that promote a positive view on Afro-textured hair, Motene notes that there is still a lack of progress for children.

While shopping with her sister and a young cousin, Motene was mocked after she discouraged her young cousin from purchasing a white doll.

“This little girl is going to grow up to think white girls are the standard you need to look up to,” says Motene.

“For starters, we have got to look at the curriculum – what books are on our shelves, and especially in white areas. White people have got to start reading black narratives and seeing the positivity behind it and not read a black narrative because there is controversy around it.”

Black hair trends through the years have been:

City slickers

In an increasingly urbanised world, black women of the 1950s and 1960s kept their hair sleek and straightened, far from the kinks and frills of natural hair. It’s no wonder Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba, made it her business to wear an array of natural hairstyles in rebellion against the un-African coifs of the time.

Cynthia Shange in a scene from the Heyns Film Production U-Deliwe in which she plays the title role. Circa 1970s.
Cynthia Shange in a scene from the Heyns Film Production U-Deliwe in which she plays the title role. Circa 1970s.
Image: Supplied

Disco diva

There is perhaps no greater image of South African beauty than Cynthia Shange in the 1970s. From beauty pageants to the bioscope, Shange became one of many faces that rocked the iconic head-turning Afro.

A lot of South Africans followed the perm trend set by the like of US artist Joan Armatrading
A lot of South Africans followed the perm trend set by the like of US artist Joan Armatrading
Image: Getty Images / Stringer

Black like who?

All that glitters might not be gold but nothing glistened quite like the perms of the 1980s. Look no further than our streets and homes for the Black Like Me and Inecto hair colour cartons for the crazy colour choices of the most bizarre decade of fashion and beauty.

Connie Ferguson in relaxed hair
Connie Ferguson in relaxed hair
Image: Cathy Pinnock

Relax, take it easy

Sure, every young woman in the 1990s wanted box braids like Brandy or the ladies of Boom Shaka, but even V-Mash’s zany hairstyles were easily remixed into glam shoulder- length, relaxed dos indicative of icons like Basetsana Kumalo and Connie Ferguson. And who can forget the smell of Sta-Sof-Fro, Step 1 or Black Like Me hair under the heat of a curling iron?

Khanyi Mbau in a black hair weave in 2010
Khanyi Mbau in a black hair weave in 2010
Image: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART

It’s unbeweaveable

Look no further than Bonang Matheba’s girly curls or Khanyi Mbau’s tresses for indicative style of the 2000s. Even Somizi’s Madame Gigi had heads turning with blonde bombshell bobs and bangs.

Lira in natural short hair at her office in Randburg, Johannesburg.
Lira in natural short hair at her office in Randburg, Johannesburg.
Image: Moeketsi Moticoe

Keeping it real

Women’s hair has taken a long journey to reach the frizzy and free foray into natural beauty. Whether you rock a free Afro like Pearl Thusi, keep it edgy and daring like Nandi Madida or short and chic like Lira. It’s all about keeping it real.

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