Barber shops question UCT study

Nimran Kissesa cleaning and polishing his clippers before he starts working

Local barber shops have responded harshly and with dismay to the results of a recent University of Cape Town (UCT) study which revealed that 40% of the clippers used in the townships were contaminated with blood and could lead to the spread of diseases.

The study on clippers in Langa, Gugulethu and Bonteheuwel revealed that the hepatitis B virus was found on four out of 50 clippers examined by UCT research students. The researchers classified the equipment as “a possible public health risk”.

Although HIV was not found on any of the clippers, the head of dermatology at UCT medical school, Nonhlanhla Khumalo, said this did not mean there was no risk of contracting HIV from clippers.

However, barbers that spoke to Vukani questioned the motive for the research. They said it purports lies about township business and was “misleading”. Barber shop owner, Nimran Kissesa, from Nyanga, could not admit or deny the outcomes of the research.

He said he did not believe that barbers did not clean their apparatus as they also used them.

Mr Kissesa said in his more than 10 years of doing the job, he never got a complaint.

“Whoever did the research probably went to the wrong barber shops. I doubt that any barber would not clean the clippers or use the wrong tools. As barbers we know that this is something that puts bread on our tables. Besides, we are running a business not just a barber,” he said. “So research like these are just designed to cripple this business because it is done mostly by black Africans.”

Mr Kissesa said he used methylated spirits to clean his clippers.

As barbers, he said they were aware of the risks posed by sharing clippers and had to make sure they were clean.

“One must remember that we also use these clippers to cut our own hair. The question to ask then is, how could we commit suicide by not cleaning the clippers. There is a particular motive behind this research,” he said.

One barber, who only described himself as Ndebe, in Site C, said the findings were racially motivated. Although he claimed not to have read the research, he questioned its intentions.

“Why did they go to the townships when there are barber shops in their own areas? There is a lot in town and in the malls. Without politicising the research, believe me it is done by a white person who has never been to the townships, just to see how we live and do things,” he said.

Mr Ndebe went on to accuse the researchers of trying to taint black businesses in the townships.

Gugulethu resident and a barber shop user, Mhlanguli Lokwe, responded with shock to the research. He said is his entire life he had been using the barber shops and never got complications.

“Look, this is news to me and bad news if I may say. I am not going to deny what they say, but I have never had anything wrong with these barbers. My entire life I used these chaps and I must say I will continue using them. For me they are doing a clean job. The truth is, there are many diseases in our lifetime. It is possible that there could be some contaminations in the barbers. We cannot deny that,” he said.

Mr Lokwe suggested that the researcher should convene a workshop with barber shop owners to empower them.