Clicks, the EFF and racism
By Ebrahim Harvey
I argue that a lot of what the media focused on last week surrounding the protests by the EFF against Clicks, following the racist comments in an advert on its website about some hair products, failed to raise the most important questions about race and racism in post-apartheid South Africa.
The advert, which described the hair of a black model as “dry and damaged” and “frizzy and dull”, which was contrasted with a blonde Caucasian’s hair that was “fine and flat” and “normal”, was not the cause of the dramatic confrontation, disruption and violence that occurred at some of Clicks’ stores in the midst of countrywide protests by the EFF last week.
It is rather obvious that this country continues to be bedevilled by race and racism 26 years after the 1994 political breakthrough.
Ultimately it is not even about tweaking the public image and reputation of companies to avoid such controversies.
It is also not, in the final analysis, mainly about hairstyle types or preferences and even of the associated Eurocentric standards of beauty.
No, the main point is that there are different kinds of racism that occur across a wide variety of scales and levels in our society, some of which are more descriptive and anecdotal, like the Clicks advert or the Dove or H&M adverts a few years ago, and others that are much more serious and systemic, which have nothing to do with commercial adverts but daily stalk, maim and mar the lives of the black working-class majority of this country.
The conditions of worsening black poverty and unemployment and raging social inequality become this country’s much bigger and more serious problem.
In other words, even if there was no racism at all in commercial adverts, these problems incomparably affect infinitely more black people in their daily lives.
While the Clicks advert correctly ignited a huge reaction, especially among the black middle classes active on social media, it is the tip of the iceberg of ongoing systemic racism in the lives of the black working-class majority who reside in townships, many or most of whom are today, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, daily besieged by arguably the worst poverty and unemployment and related social miseries ever in this country.
This, while many among the black middle-class and the likes of the leadership of the EFF, who organised and led the anti-Clicks protests, live very comfortably in formerly white suburbia.
In the final analysis, any attempts to conveniently separate these matters, which contrast the lives of the vast majority of black people in the township with those who live in formerly white suburbia, from the ongoing structural racism I am alluding to would be fatally flawed and false.
In this regard, as offensively racist as that advert certainly was, how do those aggrieved feelings compare with the heart-rending plight of the majority of black women in townships who suffer indignities incomparably worse than that elicited by that advert?
The irrefutable fact is that the leadership of the EFF has never angrily condemned and taken to the streets to protest and organise against the deplorable poverty, unemployment and multiple hardships the black working-class majority daily suffer in the townships, especially African women who still remain at the bottom of our society after 1994.
What also has the EFF done against the horrendous and worsening violence perpetrated against black women and children in townships over the past few years?
Where have they been when so many times black people were violently evicted from their homes by the Red Ants in the city of Joburg and elsewhere?
The hard and irrefutable fact is that the EFF is weak on the multiple indignities black people suffer daily in townships and in city areas, but they are very quick to react to anything that will catapult them into the national spotlight and increase their popularity, especially at the polls.
In this regard, I am convinced that the reaction of the EFF last week was calculated to elicit maximum publicity to influence the outcome of the 2021 local government elections.
But it was once again the violence orchestrated by members and supporters of the EFF last week that is the biggest problem they face as a political party.
In this regard, there can be no doubt that the black youth are justifiably angry with their worsening lot after 1994, which the impact of Covid-19 will certainly worsen, but equally there can be no doubt that the EFF leadership consciously manipulates the serious and multiple problems they face and grievances they have in order to score political mileage.
The stories of Clicks stores which were either vandalised or petrol-bombed and employees intimidated and threatened once again distracted from a discussion of that which lies not only within, but beneath the advertisement.
Contrary to what the EFF leadership might think, these continuous spectacles of violence are going to seriously undermine its growth over the longer term.
“Leadership has never taken to the streets over poverty, hardships of working-class majority in the townships”.
* Harvey is a political writer, analyst and author.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.