Monday, 1 June 2015

Notable Women of SA: Karabo Kgoleng Dada on Hair in SA

Meet Karabo Kgoleng Dada. A superwoman in the media space. Her experience ranges from print publishing, journalism and broadcasting. She’s an advocate for the positive impact of literacy and readership in South Africa. Her contributions in the public space range from print publishing, literary journalist, broadcaster and a freelance consultant. She has been part of the Franschhoek literary festival, a SALA award for literary journalism, radio literature presenter on SAFM as well as made it to the list of 200 young South Africans to take to lunch. Here’s what this phenomenal woman had to say:

Who is Karabo Kgoleng Dada? 
Arts journalist, broadcaster and consultant

  1. Tell us about your hair over the last ten years. Short dreadlocks medium thickness, then chiskop then ultra short then braids now growing my locks again 😀
  2. Tell us about your hair now short dreadlocks 
  3. What is your hair regime shampoo with a mild anti dandruff shampoo, air dry and when damp, add coconut oil and wrap in a headscarf. I have a huge collection of headscarves - they are part of my overall look and conveniently double up as a protective mechanism
  4. Do you have any particular pointers you have found useful in caring for your natural hair
  5. Which hair products do you use organic root stimulator olive oil moisturiser, pharmaceutical grade olive oil, coconut oil and shower to shower shampoo for dry hair and scalp
  6. What is your favourite hairstyle I've gone back to dreadlocks, which has been my look for 20 years. To put it in perspective, when I starred wearing dreads there was only one product on the market here and it was hard to find. I used honey to lock my hair. Sticky job! When we moved back to SA I got the school I attended to allow black girls to wear dreadlocks because mines were neat and tidy.
  7. Are you a stylist or a DIY natural had to be DIY out of necessity. There were no dread stylists when I started out. I am still DIY today because I find that stylists don't understand my hair. I tend to have a very dry scalp and fine hair with a very very I mean hey tight curl. Look at the San people - that is my hair. Petroleum based products are a strict No No and I never ever pull on my hair. A comb is death to me. 
  8. What is your favourite hairstyle I would love to have Shantel,'s hair but God knows best ,lol. I love my dreads. I can dance in the rain and swim. I also like playing with scarves.

9) What does your hair mean to you? To be honest, I don't think a lot about my hair. When I was growing up my hair was the worst type of hair a black girl could be cursed with. My dreads were about avoiding the torture of hair salons and shame. This coping mechanism meant that I ignored the hair space. The first time I went to a hair salon was after 18 years when I went to shave my head. It's funny I know, but I have so many political battles to choose from, that the hair thing, I just let it be. I've always been mildly amused when employees and general public start having a go at the politics of black hair. I suppose it doesn't bother me because I work in the creative industry so my look barely gets a glance.

10) Will you ever change it? If so to what? I'm lazy. I simply couldn't be bothered with chasing my hair around my scalp lol. I would also rather spend the time making love or reading a book or having a nice meal and wine with people I love. But at the core of it, it's just sheer laziness! 

11) Historically womens hair has been fraught with a mass of complex social and cultural expectations. Mainstream ideas of beauty do still influence perceptions and actions of women. What do you think is the narrative of South African beauty? 
Let me put it this way: when a black Miss SA rocks natural hair, then we can start talking. Having said that, though, we have come a long way in the last 2 decades. We have a wider range of products that caters for different hair types. The opening up of our borders has brought both great talent in the form of hair stylists and product. Schools workplaces and general public life and institutions have become more open to allowing us access with our hair. Can you imagine being seen to by a female black medical doctor who has long thick dreadlocks and a nose piercing and a tattoo? I know a gynaecologist who looks like that! I think the world has become more open to free expression of one's identity although I worry about increasing conservative shifts taking place in the world. I still think that SA is streets ahead in terms of progressive public life.

12) You are a public figure and being in the public and the media and your public may have different ideas as to what public figures should look like. Do you think this is the case? What has your experience been with being in the public eye? How do you square the expectations of others with your own?
I think it depends on the kind of audience you have and the type of public space you work in. Let me explain: the mainstream beauty industry, shows like Top Billing and the jobs with big product sponsorships tend to be more Eurocentric and limited in terms of the types of personalities that they choose to represent them. A product like Dark and Lovely still insists that for Dark to be Lovely her hair must be straight. The modelling industry and Hollywood standard for black female beauty is on the paler part of the brown spectrum, with straight hair. The booty is hyper sexualised but Beyoncé Nicky Minaj the list goes on, are still yellow and straight haired. The hyper visibility of women such as Lupita,  Alek Wek Grace Jones and Whoopi Goldberg distracts us into thinking that it is easy to break out when you are different to the standard requirement. If that was the case we would be able to lose count of the number of big media names who 'rock natural'. Even in South Africa. Try it...

Image Courtesy:

Now, my experience with my public life is different because my scene is where the nerds and artists and academics play. The art and literature world is, by necessity, about free expression and questioning the status quo in terms of representation and narrative. In fact, isn't that what most of this is about? So, fortuitously my look has enhanced my image of being a creative black and proud female thinker.

13) You have a beautiful daughter. Do you influence her perception of her hair? What do you tell her? How does she feel about her hair? 
Hahaha, everyone thinks their child is beautiful but I like the way you think! Thank you. I hope I positively  influence her perception of herself though I don't put pressure on her to wear her hair as a political symbol. I think at age 11, that's too much to impose on a child. In fact I think it's counterproductive and double standard to impose your taste and politics on another woman by attacking her way of expressing who she is. I call that, sister bitchery.  My daughter will grapple with the expression of herself and femininity as all women do. Right now she wants bright red streaks and whatever that's in today. I let her play around during school holidays but I concede to relaxing her hair because of the whole school vibe. She doesn't want dreadlocks. I would like to believe that, in seeing how I express myself through the physical image that I project to the world, she will be encouraged to do the same. 

14) Where can we find you on the web? 

@karabokgoleng on Twitter, Google is a lifesaver because I'm not good at websites although I always threaten to start a blog.
You can email me for bookings to speak and MC at your functions 

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