(Photo credit: Lauren Mulligan)
You can take out an insurance policy for almost anything – the mundane: car, home, life, and the unusual: your body parts, alien abduction (at least in the UK, although how to prove you were abducted remains unclear), but hair insurance? That’s a new one, but the question has arisen in light of recent events in South Africa. Dreadlocked South Africans have become a little less chilled after thieves began targetting them for their hair to meet the growing demand for human hair extensions.
Dreadlocks have become an increasingly popular hairstyle for men and women in South African in the last few years. But locks can take years to grow, whereas you can have a full head of ready-made dreads within two hours of walking into a salon, if you can afford to shell out between R200 (€16) and R2,500 (€208) for someone else’s hair. And so it is that we find ourselves dealing with a black market for stolen dreadlocks. In a country where R2,500 is what some earn per month, the dreadlock “business” is a very profitable market.
Police say not many cases have been officially reported - there was one case in Durban last year, and another in Johannesburg last month (in which a Zimbabwean partying with a friend in a club went missing and was later found passed out and shorn of 10 years’s worth of locks. The thief/thieves didn’t touch his mobile phone, wallet and money; listen to The Times' reporter Poppy Louw's interview with The World, below), but one stylist told a reporter that he gets up to 10 customers a day asking for such extensions, and a police spokesperson said the crime goes underreported because many victims are too embarrassed to report the theft of their hair. Sounds plausible; after all, how on earth do you explain having your hair stolen? And poor cops, how do they manage to keep a straight face while taking victims’ statements?
There have apparently been cases of hair theft in the States, too, though not directly from people’s heads. Just goes to show: American dreadlock thieves are wimps.
Well, at least the South African police are cool with people having locks, which is more than can be said for the ones in Zanzibar, at least until recently. Back in the 90s, it wasn’t unheard of for police officers to harass people with dreadlocks simply because of their hair, or to even forcibly shave off people’s locks, and it wasn’t until the hairstyle became accepted as part of the rasta belief system that the harassment ceased. Even so, Zanzibari society is somewhat more conventional and traditional than South African society – Zanzibari tradition and culture is tied to religion – and non-conventional hairstyles are still frowned upon. Some rogue officers have been witnessed forcibly shaving the hair off people they felt were anti-government malcontents, simply because of their “non-conformist” hairstyle. Most such cases have been in the hoods (the slums), and are most likely an overzealous response to last year’s secessionist protests, which were routinely reported as Islamic, but which actually had more to do with Zanzibar’s poor being fed the raw deal they’ve always had to accept. So, as far as some Zanzibari police officers are concerned, if your hairdo isn’t conventional, you’re probably a secessionist in need of a good head-shaving.
It’s a funny old world.
Emma Conlin is a South Africa writer, interested in all insurance-related matters, particularly business and personal insurance. She writes on a freelance basis for industry-related blogs in South Africa and internationally.