South Africa: COVID-19 - the Message Is in the Hair

Hair stylist Onele Cembi.

Uitenhage hair stylist "writes" with his dreadlocks

Hair stylist Onele Cembi could be the first South African to write a Covid-19 message in his hair.

The stylist from KwaNobhuhle, Uitenhage, says he wants to pass on the message about the virus to children and teach them how to spell by "writing" the words in his dreadlocks.

"Children seem to be ignorant about Covid-19. They often play in the streets and most of them who don't even wear masks often chase me, stop and stare to read ... and that's when I explain to them to stay at home and use soap to wash their hands regularly."

"This is my contribution to the South African government, for free," says Cembi, who has worn dreadlocks for ten years.

He says it takes about an hour to "write" the words "Covid-19", "quarantine" or "lockdown" with his dreadlocks, using additional dreadlocks where necessary.

"First I use my dreadlocks on my head to make a stand, so the words 'Covid-19' sit on it. I then write the words 'Covid-19', using bits of other natural locks that are intertwined with certain equipment to make the word strong. Then I lift the word 'Covid-19', put it onto the stand... and that's how it's done. The dreadlocks in my head are like a house and the locks with words are like furniture."

He says exactly how it's done is a secret he prefers not to reveal since he is in the business competitively.

At night he takes the words off his head to sleep.

His business, Odds and Odz Dreads Salon, is closed during the lockdown. "My business has died completely because my girlfriend and my sister all used to make a living by twisting people's dreadlocks at my salon."

Cembi, who is also a poet who used to earn money from performances, says his family approves of his Covid-19 hairstyles. "Sometimes my girlfriend would say before I leave the house: 'Honey wait: one letter of the word on your head is skew.' Then I would tie the word tightly".

Ncumisa Bob, one of Cembi's salon customers, says she loves his hairstyles. "When I drove near him the first time I saw his art, I stopped and took pictures."

"There are competitors but his work is unique."

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