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OPINION: To the president, from a hairdresser struggling during COVID-19

OPINION

Dear Mr President,

I’m writing to you today after you announced that salons would not be opening under level 3 of lockdown and that the beauty industry would not be allowed to return to work with the rest of the country on 1 June 2020.

My question is simple: how will we survive? By "we", I do not mean the whole industry, but the people of the industry who have not earned a cent in the last two months and we the people who will not earn an income in the coming months. This is not an open-ended question! I want an answer from you, the person who has decided to take my livelihood away. You, the person who is stopping me from feeding my family and paying my bills and taxes.

Let us be clear, the power of the decision lies with you, and you alone! You carry the power, which you enforce through the police and courts.

I ask you again, will I survive if you criminalise my profession that services the people of the country? I am not a criminal and will not break the law to practice my trade. Let me be clear, I am not a criminal!

I ask you and your National Command Council (NCC) and your cabinet again, how will we the people of the beauty industry survive? The people who work in this sector do not form part of large conglomerates that can survive for months on end without cash flows. We do not receive bailouts from the government. If you make it impossible for us to work and earn a living, how will we survive?

Spare me your best wishes and prayers while you get paid your salary from our tax money and feed your family. Spare me your empty words of considerations while you go to sleep each night under a roof that you know will be paid for at the end of the month. Spare me your solidarity and promises that it will soon all be better, yet you do not act to make it such. These are empty words and do not feed my family. You have decided to stop my income and my means to earn a living for myself and my family. Please explain to me and my family, how will we survive?

We as the beauty industry and the people who work in it, do not want grants, money, or special treatment. All we want is to go back to work in a responsible way like the rest of South Africa on 1 June 2020.

Our phones are overflowing with messages and calls from our clients who want to come and see us. They do not fear coming to the salons because they know how sterile and hygienic a place it is and was long before COVID-19. They have entrusted us for years to serve their best interests, why would we stop now? Our clients know that they cannot perform these types of tasks and treatments on their own, as the NCC suggests. You see clearly that the news presenters, politicians, and other professionals have without doubt had their hair done by professionals. It is clear to see for all that we are essential - as people return to work, so must we.

As a person that works in the beauty industry, a mother, a father, a provider to my family, I ask you, what shall I do now that you have decided I no longer have a right to earn an income? Explain to me how my right to provide for my family is less important than the taxi driver, spaza shop owner, informal trader, construction worker, miner, or shop assistant?

Our industry and the people who work in it are diverse and come from all walks of life, from rural areas, to the townships and cities. Although we are all very different, we share one commonality: through practicing our trade, we feed our families.

We as the people of the beauty industry want a response from you, our elected leader, on the way forward for our industry. Not from a minister, from you, the President of the Republic of South Africa, as the power of this decision regarding the survival of hundreds of thousands of families lies in your hands.

Sincerely,
Each and every person of the beauty industry

Teri Breytenbach is the owner of The Crop Room in Hillcrest, Durban.