COMMENT

The EFF's Great Hair Hoax

Andrew Donaldson on the huge nontroversy around the TRESemmé hadvert on Clicks' website

A FAMOUS GROUSE

A bad hair day

HERE at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), it has been noted that, in matters of grooming, most of the fascists who directed the offensive against Clicks stores are men who favour the slaphead. That is, the clean-shaven and polished skull. In this, the commander leads by example. When the opportunity to stir up a violent distraction knocks, Julius Malema will not, if I may, be caught nappy. However, shouty MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ principal race profiler, is a notable exception, and appears to prefer a certain unkempt fuzziness. 

We have now entered a hairy, if confused space in the national obsession: an angry black mob has been raging against a largely black-owned and black-run enterprise for allowing an advertisement for beauty products designed and executed by black marketers and aimed at black consumers to be placed on its website. Uniquely, white South Africans don’t appear to be involved in this knotted mess. 

However, and true to form, beating about the bush in the usual random Effing fashion has resulted in a target of sorts emerging from the undergrowth to subject itself to ritual humiliation. Step forward, then, Unilever.

The red berets had given the owners of the TRESemmé brand of hair care products at the centre of this confected outrage 24 hours “to explain itself” about the advert. Failing which, they would be taking “robust action” against their shampoos and conditioners. Within hours, other retailers were frantically removing TRESemmé products from their shelves and Unilever capitulated. They requested a meeting with the fascists, where it was decided, among other things, that the company would pull all TRESemmé products from retailers for the next ten days. 

This was quite a coup for Malema. What, after all, could be more representative of white monopoly capital than one of the world’s oldest multinationals, a Dutch-British corporation trading in some 190 countries? Now he has them jumping through a hoop.

Such appeasement has not gone unnoticed. Writing in Daily Maverick, Wits vice chancellor Adam Habib suggests civil society is alarmingly acquiescent in its acceptance of the EFF’s thuggish behaviour. Journalists and other commentators, he says, have been easily “distracted” by the contents of the advert and have “ignored the threats of violence and the extra-legal character of the EFF’s response [to it]”. 

Habib warns that we ignore the violence at our peril. But it appears that journalists and other commentators haven’t paid enough attention to the advert. A little digging around may have thrown up a different perspective on the matter.

We have read, for example, that the labels “Dry & Damaged Hair” and “Frizzy & Dull Hair” described the hair of black women in the advert, while that of the white women were labelled “Normal Hair” and “Fine & Flat Hair”. This, former public protector Thuli Madonsela has commented, was probably an example of unconscious racial bias. Perhaps. It could also be down to a poor selection of stock photographs and crappy layout, for the optics, as they say, was not good. 

But it was enough for Malema and his followers to charge that, once again, black identity was being touted as inferior to that of whites. In their September 4, 2020 statement, the EFF accused Clicks of  “disgusting” racism: “The advert asserts visually and descriptively the natural hair of black women is damaged and dull while depicting while depicting the hair of white women as normal, fine and flat. It is inexplicable that this imagery can be portrayed, one which reinforces the racist narrative of the abnormality of blackness as opposed to whiteness, as a standard.”

There is nothing inherently offensive about these terms. They’ve been used for years to define hair and, consequently, they’re used to market hair care products. The grading system was developed in 1997 by the American hair stylist Andre Walker, who classified hair broadly as follows: Type 1 is straight hair (with sub-categories for fine, medium and coarse hair); Type 2 is wavy hair (loose, defined and wide waves); Type 3 is curly hair (loose, tight and corkscrews); and Type 4 is kinky-coily hair (sub-catagorised according to the “tightness” of coil patterns.)

It was refreshing then to read, amid all the noise, an expert’s take on the matter. Here is a Facebook post from Tshediso Tshabalala, a man lauded in 2016 as an emerging talent in the “South African black hair industry”:

“As a hair stylist I just want to explain this Clicks advert. In my eyes there is nothing wrong with this ad. All of this bottom photos show problematic hair. In hair language if you say hair is ‘fine and flat’ its more of an insult than complement. Its FINE in a bad way. Fine texture is thin and flat texture. No white woman wants fine and flat hair. So if you have a fine and flat hair the shampoo will help give you bounce and volume. If you have dull and dry hair shampoo will revive you hair and give u moisture. Normal is boring in hair language. So if you have normal to oily hair the shampoo will help give you luster and bounce. If hair is dry and brittle tresemme will treat the issue. Where is racism there. I think english used is the problem here. There is nothing wrong with this ad. It just needs comprehension qhaa.” (sic)

Tshabalala has since deleted this post, perhaps wisely, given the widespread bullying as well as the aforementioned Ndlozi’s predilection for labelling his black critics “coconuts”. It could also be that Tshabalala fears being taken to task by black feminists, who would argue that their hair is their business — and theirs alone. 

Some years back, the academic Toks Oyedemi conducted a study among 159 black South African female university students, who were asked to categorise styles of afro-textured hair. The results, published in March 2016 in Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, revealed only 15.1 per cent of respondents “identified the category of African natural hair as beautiful”. The overwhelming majority favoured weaves and extensions — 30.8 per cent rated braided natural augmented hair and 51 per cent for “European/Asian” hair styles.

According to Oyedemi, these findings demonstrate the “cultural violence of symbolic indoctrination that involves the perception of beautiful hair as mainly of a European/Asian texture and style and has created a trend where this type of hair is associated with being beautiful and preferable to other hair texture, in this instance, natural African hair”.

It is interesting, I suppose, that among those contributing to this indoctrination we may include Julius Malema’s own wife. 

Mantwa Matlala Malema, or “the management”, as her husband refers to her, is by all accounts a remarkable woman. She has been identified as the driving force behind his dramatic weight loss. And she has sought to instil a spot of culture in her husband, reportedly encouraging him to go the cinema more often, an activity he usually avoids as the films are filled with white people and he can’t understand them. 

Mantwa is also a style icon, and quite Instagrammable, as the young people say. Google images of her and you will see that, in most photographs, she sports a European-styled wig or weave. The only issue I’d have here would relate to provenance. Whose hair is in the weave? In some cases, it’s claimed that it could well be that of Uyghur women prisoners interred in labour camps in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Which is an issue perhaps worth raising a real fuss about

Some legal matters

Zandile Gumede, the disgraced former eThekwini mayor and now suspended member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature, duly appeared in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court this week on corruption charges relating to tender fraud amounting to more than R400-million. The matter was postponed to December 10 to allow the prosecution to to complete forensic audits. This is routine procedure, and perhaps news reports on her appearance would have ended on that note had not Gumede deviated in a startling manner from the sort of behaviour one has come to expect at such times.

Normally, high-ranking ANC members accused of wrongdoing will adopt a position of indignation on the court house steps and tell supporters they are being targeted because they are strong leaders, and their only crime is that they have the interests of the people at heart. Gumede herself has said as much on previous occasions.

Now however, she claims that it is the ruling criminal enterprise that is being targeted through her. “We are at war,” she has been quoted as saying, “but this war is not targeting Zandile Gumede, it is the ANC that is under attack.” Supporting her, she said, meant defending the party. “By taking a stand against cases like this, comrades in eThekwini and other regions will save the ANC.”

She’s not wrong, in a sense. Charging crooked members of a crooked party is pretty much the same thing as putting a crooked party in the dock. Not that Gumede believes she is crooked. She’s innocent, she maintains. The state has no case against her, she insists, because as a politician she cannot interfere with tender processes.

There is a worrying disconnect with reality here. Perhaps it’s a new legal defence strategy. Not so much the Stalingrad manoeuvre so deftly deployed by Accused Number One’s legal team, but a defence that suggests the accused is innocent on grounds of both stupidity and insanity. Put another way, can Gumede be charged for fraud if it can be proven that she does not know what constitutes fraud?

She is not alone here. Astonishingly, NEC member and chair of the ANC’s disciplinary appeals committee, Nomvula Mokonyane, this week casually admitted to the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture that she solicited and accepted a bribe of R2.2-million in 2013 when she was Gauteng premier. The money was used towards the purchase of a R3-million Aston Martin.

Ironically, the admission of this bribe formed the basis of her denial that it was Bosasa chief financial officer Angelo Agrizzi who had stumped up the R2.2-million. Not true, said Mokonyane, it was a family friend, Thaba Mufamadi, who gave it to her. He did so in order to secure a stake in a lucrative deal her late husband had with Eskom. As she told the commission:

“My husband has been doing some work, including trying to get contracts coming from your Eskom and so forth. A case that we are still fighting now about the evergreen projects of Eskom. He had entered into a very closed sector of business which is the scrap from Eskom and Denel and so forth. He had people mentoring and coaching him. They could see that things are coming okay and that this going to be a good business and stands a chance of growing…

“One of the things we discussed and agreed was that I need something that I think we will be happy with. He will work with me to make sure that I get it. We then had discussions with a family friend and because of seeing what is coming through… He then made arrangements with the friends who don’t do business with government and were then able to make this assistance which in return they would be a part of the contract on Eskom. I insisted on making direct contributions [to the car]. I made that contribution as well.”

Clearly, a bribe. But then . . . no apparent comprehension of what constitutes a bribe? These are the people that Cyril Ramaphosa has entrusted with the housecleaning. It’s not very encouraging, is it?

More motoring news

A report in the latest Private Eye takes the Swazi monarch, Mswati III to task for his legendary profligacy. The magazine’s Mbabane correspondent reveals that the king’s R600-million spending spree last year for new Rolls-Royces for him and his wives has resulted in the country now having more of these luxury cars than ambulances. “Alas,” the correspondent notes, “despite years of development planning, we only have 1 500 kilometres of paved roads for their new owners to enjoy.”

Flat-out oppression

“When Biko the man died, Biko the martyr was born: Subry Govender recalls the death of Steve Biko in police custody and the brutality of the apartment regime towards its opponents.” — The Mercury, Monday September 7, 2020.