When I launched ActionSA I spoke about the idea of the good, law-abiding and hard-working majority in our country, the people who form the majority and yet have been silenced by our politics.
No event could capture the essence of this notion more than the Clicks saga that unfolded this week.
The vast majority of South Africans recognise that the adverts were deeply insensitive in a country that lives with the pain of racial inequality from our unjust past. Most South Africans, would not deny that the adverts demeaned black people by advancing the idea that black identity is inferior to white identity.
As someone who has worked for 38 years in the haircare and beauty industry, particularly trying to advance the idea of pride in black beauty, there is no doubt that these adverts were horrific and required accountability.
Instead what we, the reasonable majority of people in South Africa, witnessed was anarchy. The EFF’s decision to close down Clicks stores, intimidate shoppers and workers and damage property was no less counter-productive than the adverts themselves.
What we must learn to understand as the majority of our country, is that neither the designers of those adverts nor those who violently close stores, speak on our behalf or serve our interests with their actions.
The adverts set back our already stalled progress to heal the wounds of our past by ensuring that all South Africans are treated with dignity. Those who close stores, intimidate workers and damage property do harm to the image of our country and our economy. Most of all, these actions by ridiculous and radical minorities hurt the majority of reasonable, law-abiding and good people of our country.
The timing of the news that our GDP shrunk 51% from Q2 in 2019 to Q2 in 2020 could not have been more appropriate. We face the prospects of unemployment rising above 50%, businesses closing and a massive tax shortfall. The economic consequences of all of this will be more devastating for many of our people living with extreme poverty.
This is a time in which we need to project a more positive image of our country to signify an economic turnaround, something which lends confidence to the world that South Africa is reforming and is open for business.
When the world, prospective investors and monetary agencies see the images of stores being chained shut, workers being intimidated and petrol bombs exploding on shop fronts, they see an altogether different country.
What they see is a country that does not exercise rights and protections through its institutions, which were heralded with our Constitution. They see lawlessness, anarchy and a country where law enforcement stands back and does nothing while crimes are committed in front of their eyes. They see frightened workers and patrons being intimidated for the actions of people far removed in corporate headquarters.
The majority of South Africans would view the necessary recourse to those adverts as residing with institutions like the SAHRC and Equality Court, both of which have considerable powers and a good track record for holding offenders to account. Most of us would observe the remedial steps taken by Clicks and, should they be deemed inadequate, exercise our consumers power to shop elsewhere.
We have to begin asking ourselves some very serious questions as the majority of people in our country. Are we comfortable with either those adverts or the anarchist behaviour of the EFF speaking on our behalf? Are we comfortable to live with the repercussions of a more divided country and even lower image of our economy? What do we stand to benefit from the malicious destruction of property and by extension our economy? How are we, as a society hoping to guarantee people’s right to dignity when we allow businesses to be shut down and our people being barred from work? There is no dignity in people being unemployed and unable to provide for themselves and their families.
Why are we silent in the face of such lunacy? Better yet, the most silent person in our country is President Cyril Ramaphosa who has once again failed to provide any leadership when it was needed.
It is time for us to end our silence and the era of being spoken for by obscene, extreme and radical minorities. The Penny Sparrows’, Adam Catzavelos’ and designers of these advertisements do not speak on our behalf. Nor should those who damage property, petrol bomb stores and intimidate innocent workers and shoppers.
As much as we are working to put in place a political alternative in South Africa that will bring hope and prosperity to all of its people, the silent majority in our country needs to speak up and ensure that these minorities who derail our national project are seen for what they are; minorities.
Herman Mashaba is President of Clicks SA.