That the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) should have seized upon the Clicks hair advertisement to showcase their propensity for violence was only to be expected. Ditto Cyril Ramaphosa’s supine response.
As for President Ramaphosa’s cabinet, it is no surprise that it issued a statement which concentrated on condemning the “profoundly offensive and racist” advertisement, but almost as an afterthought said that the right to protest “came with the inherent responsibility to do so peacefully and without infringing on the rights of others”.
Even the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), some of whose members are no strangers to EFF-type violence when it suits them, showed a better sense of proportion. That organisation thus warned businesses against perpetuating racism. It then attacked the EFF’s “headline-grabbing stunt” for its “violence, thuggery, pure criminality, anarchy, lawlessness”, and the like.
Business Day published an editorial which found it “difficult to sympathise” with an EFF protest that had been marked by “chaos, violence, and criminality”. But it did not get around to even this rather mealy-mouthed criticism until it had first spent half of the editorial berating Clicks and endorsing “tough action” against those responsible for the advertisement.
Come again? This newspaper seems to feel it cannot criticise the EFF for inciting violence before it has proved its credentials by devoting an equal amount of space to denouncing Clicks for an advert which, if it was offensive, was unintentionally so – and which Phumzile van Damme of the Democratic Alliance (DA) more accurately labelled as “stupid”.
Business Day’s attitude is reminiscent of that of many journalists and some liberal organisations during the ten years of violence leading up to the election in 1994. Before they could bring themselves to condemn assassinations or necklace executions carried out by revolutionary cadres, they first had to recapitulate all the horrors of apartheid.