AFRICAN students at Pretoria High School for Girls have been permitted to adopt hairstyles of their choice after the provincial education minister in the Gauteng province suspended racist rules which were being enforced by the school.

The school was widely criticised after African students protested that they were obliged to straighten their hair and refrain from Afro styles. The protest drummed up support on social media, with #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh trending on twitter, Facebook and platforms.

In a statement issued this week, Gauteng Department of Education stated that during a visit by Panyaza Lesufi, the province’s education minister, it had learned of allegations of racist abuse of black students on the basis of their hair and their speaking in African languages.

“The learners feel that educators use abusive and demeaning language when they address them regarding their hairstyles. For instance, some educators tell them they look like monkeys, or have nests on their heads,” the statement said.

Furthermore, the education department established that the school had banned the use of African languages on school premises while permitting the use of Afrikaans—which is closely associated with the apartheid regime, which espoused racial segregation.

A statement on the school’s website acknowledged that its governing body had held “a successful meeting” with Lesufi and that it would work closely with the department to “resolve the issues which were raised.”

South Africa’s Culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, said the government supported the stance of the students “to protect their right to have natural hair” and that it was “unacceptable” to stop students speaking African languages.

“Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African identity,” Mthethwa tweeted.

Pretoria High School for Girls was founded in 1902 and was a whites-only facility during the apartheid era, which ended in 1994.

There have been several rows in South Africa in 2016 concerning racism, often sparked by social media comments.

Estate agent Penny Sparrow sparked controversy by referring to black people as “monkeys” in a Facebook post in January, which led to her party membership of the Democratic Alliance being revoked.

A High Court judge also appeared to suggest in May that rape was “part of the culture” of black men.