With no prospect of salons and barbers opening soon, black market haircuts are common in South Africa, anecdotal evidence suggests.
In some cases haircare professionals are charging double what they did before lockdown – but others are asking much smaller markups.
Those who have long-standing relationships with their barber or hairdresser are more likely to be able to book a slot, unless you know just where to look.
Numerous barbers and hairdressers across South Africa are going underground to meet the demand for haircuts while bypassing government regulations outlawing their work until Level 1 lockdown.
In terms of draft plans there is no prospect of haircuts returning at Level 3, or even Level 2 – and parts of the country may remain at Level 4 even as the rest of South Africa eases down the alert level – potentially leaving haircuts illegal, everywhere, for some time to come yet.
The danger of contracting Covid-19 was too serious for haircutting, given that there was “no social distancing”, minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said on 29 April.
However, hairdressers are planning to challenge this state of affairs by bringing a court application later this month to allow them to work again.
This legal action comes amid growing calls for the government to lift the lockdown and for people to return to work.
SA is not alone in the phenomenon of black-market haircuts during lockdown; the same trend has been reported in Ireland, the US, and the UK.
Dane Frost, divisional manager of the Employers Organisation for Hairdressing, Cosmetology and Beauty (EOHCB) KwaZulu Natal, says that he is aware of reports of South African hairdressers and barbers offering haircuts on the black market.
However, Frost says he isn’t personally aware of black-market haircutting.
As far as the EOHCB was aware, Frost says the police will fine any hairdresser or barber arrested for cutting people’s hair, in their professional capacity.
In addition, anyone caught like this would get a criminal record, Frost adds.
“We have been receiving reports that there are individuals that are doing underground [haircutting] work. Of course, we don’t have any proof of that. If anyone is aware of this activity, then they should report this to the South African Police Services. EOHCB, as an organisation, is not condoning underground work. We are advising our members not to act in that manner and remain within the law,” Frost says.
Double the price for an illicit haircut, for ‘travel’
Several haircutting professionals, approached by Business Insider South Africa, indicated – on condition of anonymity – that they were providing haircuts because they desperately need the money or they want to assist their long-standing clients.
In some instances, barbers and hairdressers are charging their clients almost double what they did before the national coronavirus lockdown started on 27 March.
The reason given for this is the extra cost of travelling to their clients’ homes.
The barbers and hairdressers involved in the underground trade are mainly offering haircuts to their existing long-term clients rather than giving haircuts to strangers, given the risk of law enforcement officers discovering their activities.
An employee at a Cape Town barbershop says that the store was only allowed to sell hair care and related products, which it was offering online.
The shop wasn’t offering any haircuts in line with the Covid-19 regulations issued by the government, she says.
“We are aware of other barbers and hairdressers who are offering haircuts. I’m not sure how many are doing it, but, if anyone is offering haircuts, it would be very hush-hush. I have mainly heard of barbers and hairdressers going to their clients’ homes to offer haircuts,” she says.
A Johannesburg-based haircutter who owns several barbershops says he is serving clients who contact him by phone, at their homes.
When making these house trips, he also brought along his assistant, who answers his phone and helps him with other tasks.
He says he is charging R150 per haircut, up 15% from the R130 he set at his barbershops before the lockdown started.
Another Johannesburg-based barber tells Business Insider that since the lockdown began he has cut hair for a number of his clients.
He says he is mainly responding to existing clients’ requests rather than looking for new business.
He usually charged R130 at his barbershop, but now his price is R250, to travel to his clients’ homes to cut their hair.
See also: Salons expect to be flooded when lockdown eases. Here’s how they plan to cope.
Business Insider contacted a Durban barber who advertised his services on Twitter during the lockdown.
The Durban barber says that he is charging R130 a haircut, which he says is unchanged from before the lockdown.
This barber says he is getting a lot of calls from people interested in haircuts.
A Johannesburg-based hairdresser says that he is getting some calls from his clients for haircuts and he is acceding to these requests.
“People need to look good and if a client calls – I will give them a haircut. A person who phones me for a haircut and has been a customer for ages, then I will give him a quick haircut,” he says.
While his clients were requesting haircuts, some get cold feet after setting up appointments, he says.
For instance, one woman requested a haircut and made an appointment, but the client cancelled due to concerns raised by her husband about the Covid-19 regulations, he adds.
The hairdresser says he hadn’t changed his haircut price during the lockdown and is charging about R200 for a man’s haircut and R400 or more for a woman’s haircut.
The hairdresser says the precautions he was taking includes having sanitiser available and wearing a mask.
Another owner of a Johannesburg hairdressing business says she is not doing any work because she wants to avoid the penalties for being caught.
She says she knew of hairdressers who had been arrested by the police, put into jail while awaiting bail and fined for illegally practising their trade during the lockdown.
“A lot of hairdressers in the industry are single mothers, and they are desperate for money. They need to feed their kids,” the Johannesburg hairdresser says.