Adam Habib, Vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, generally known as Wits, did us all a favour by writing an excellent article on the EFF and the racist ad.
It’s not very complicated. The EFF (Economic Freedom Front for non-South African readers) is a small fascist party under the leadership of a wannabe Hitler, named Julius Malema. They preach a deliberately outrageous brand of extreme Marxism and African chauvinism and specialise in disruptive political theatre, abusive racist language and general small-time thuggery
If by any chance they came to power they would certainly not make the trains run on time but they would destroy what remains of the economy, plunge the country into despair and generally consolidate the perception in certain quarters of an incorrigible African propensity for failed banana republics.
That would be unfair because they’re not supported by the majority of African youth who recognise the dead-end nature of the EFF brand of politics, do not share in their racism (or Marxism) and dislike their nasty thuggery. But nothing is static and continued ANC weakness, corruption, and factionalism is breeding a vast South African underclass which could become a fertile substrate for radical extremists.
Oh yes the ad. In the words of Habib:
“The company (Clicks, a national retail pharmaceutical chain) launched an advertisement around hair with explicit racist overtones which provoked a public outcry. It apologised, but many were not about to leave the matter there. The EFF, long corralled by Covid-19 and awaiting an opportunity for political spectacle, grasped the moment and demanded that the company meet certain demands, including closing for five days as a financial penalty for their racialised advert. If the company refused, the party pledged to call out its members and shut down Clicks branches around the country.”
This the EFF did by trashing stores, intimidating customers and hurling racial insults. The ANC kept shtum consolidating the entire accurate perception that a tacit incestuous relationship exists between the 2 parties in which the EFF acts as the vanguard in promoting political and racist views endorsed by many within the ANC but who prefer not to have their fingerprints on such incriminating evidence.
Well what about the ad? To cut a long story short, it featured long, dark but somewhat frizzy hair on a very attractive black girl compared with the blonde flowing locks of what looked like a white or lightly coloured model. The ad was for hair conditioning products (a field I’m sadly unfamiliar with) which promised to convert the former into the latter.
Oh dear. All those unkind jokes about blondes flew out the one window and moral outrage about race came flying in the other. There are many white adolescents who have mourned their curly and/or frizzy hair and wished they could swap with the blonde bimbo down the road. Most get over their pubertal angst and make the most of what they have while the unfortunate blondes go on being the butt of unfair jokes.
But not in SA (or the USA it seems). The EFF as Habib pointed out rode the wave of outrage to the extreme. The theatrics also conveniently served to take attention off the corruption and maladministration in the ruling party at least for while. Yes the ad was racist but not intentionally so. It simply reflected a common belief that gentlemen prefer blondes and was tone-deaf to the overtones and undertones. Clumsy yes, intentionally racist no, implicitly racist? Possibly. Dumb? Definitely.
Is the EFF important? Besides the sour taste it introduces into politics it’s a canary. Its presence shows something is rotten in the State of South Africa. And indeed that is so which I will not go into here.
But this canary can turn into a ravenous vulture if the rot allows it to as we have seen so graphically in recent Western history. Democracy is a beautiful but delicate political plant. It needs constant tending and is vulnerable to internal imbalances and external pests.
South Africa is still trying to get democracy to take root here in the inhospitable soil of Southern Africa and the EFF is a sign we’re failing. It is also a portent of disasters to come should we continue the way we have been going the last quarter century.
Time for change!