Dreadful Crime: Dreadlock Thefts in South Africa

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is The World. This next story will have Rastafarians terrified. The dateline is Johannesburg, South Africa. A man was recently robbed of his dreadlocks at a South African nightclub. It's believed that the man's dreads were stolen to feed a growing demand for human hair extensions. It seems that dreads have become a valuable commodity. Poppy Louw is a reporter with The Times newspaper in Johannesburg. So you wrote about this dreadlock theft, Poppy. First of all, what happened to this man? How were his dreads cut off without his consent?

Poppy Louw: Well, from what his friends told me is that they were hanging out at a club, and he left his friend inside for a little while. He went out looking for him and he found him passed out on the floor and his hair, which he had grown for ten years, was cut off.

Werman: Is the theory that the thieves gave him some knockout drops and then just shaved him?

Louw: Well, not quite, because he had been drinking. I mean, they were out clubbing. He had consumed a lot of alcohol. The thing is, from what I've heard, is that the victims aren't really hurt physically.

Werman: So how popular are dreads, specifically real people's dreads? Real hair?

Louw: They are quite popular. I've got dreads myself. It looks very neat and tidy, and you look very fashionable. A lot of women have been coming out and getting dreads. But I didn't know about dreadlock extensions until about two, three years ago. I would see someone who had hair that was shorter than mine, and after two months their hair is down their back. You know it?

Werman: Your dreads are real though, yeah?

Louw: Yes, mine are real. I've had them since 2004.

Werman: Had you ever thought about the possibility that some thief might just cut them off?

Louw: Not really. That's the weird thing, is that I don't walk around thinking that someone might just terrorize me and take my hair. But that's also because I don't wear my hair loose. A lot of the victims were walking around with their hair loose.

Werman: So, you know, with a lot of stories, it's always about follow the money. So how much can you get for a good healthy set of dreadlocks?

Louw: A good healthy set of dreadlocks. Well, mine are not even halfway down my back, so I've heard that mine could go for a thousand five.

Werman: A thousand five Rand.

Louw: Yeah, a thousand five Rand.

Werman: That's about 150 bucks.

Louw: Yes.

Werman: So that's pretty good, for just sitting down in a barber's chair. But you've got no plans to shave yours, I suspect.

Louw: I actually do, but I'm not selling it to somebody, I'm giving it to my sister. When I say that I'm ready to cut mine, it's been a long time, I'm ready to let go of all the drama that is attached to the locks. And then she was like, no, no, no, you can extend my hair with them.

Werman: Well, change can be good. Theft is not good though.

Louw: That's the problem, that people now realize that there is currency that's attached to dreadlocks and it's very, very scary.

Werman: Poppy Louw, a reporter with The Times newspaper in Johannesburg. She wrote about these dreadlock thefts. There's a link to her story at TheWorld.org. Poppy, very nice to speak with you. Thanks.

Louw: Thank you very much.