The EFF's storm commandos were raiding H&M stores in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg among others, trashing displays and overturning mannequins. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Cyril Ramaphosa was addressing the faithful at East London’s Buffalo Park stadium last Saturday, while the EFF's storm commandos were raiding H&M stores in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg among others, trashing displays and overturning mannequins.

The EFF were fighting racism, as approvingly tweeted by Floyd Shivambu their deputy president.

It wasn’t an act that was immediately obvious. It certainly wasn’t met with wholesale approval or comprehension - for a number of reasons. First and foremost, would be the EFF’s inconsistency in choosing targets.

There were many other examples of racism they could well have taken a stance on. If they wanted to stick with advertising, there was Dove’s own goal last year, to say nothing of H&M’s own track record using white models - in an African market.

The other was the timing.

Ramaphosa’s speech was widely lauded as a man not just taking control of the continent’s oldest liberation movement and the country’s ruling party, but also a man who also taking away the opposition’s greatest asset - Jacob Zuma.

All of a sudden, politics - and with it the critical general election in a year and a half - was becoming that much more contested, with a ruling party that was suddenly promising to come up with real solutions for the problems that beset them.

Ergo, trash a couple of stores in high end shopping malls for an advertising campaign that has a black kid wearing a hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle”.

There’s a lot of merit in both these arguments; it’s undeniable that the ongoing transition within the ANC’s leadership is as threatening for opposition parties as it is for those with first class tickets on the gravy train.

There’s no doubt either that H&M was a particularly low hanging fruit; a low risk objective with guaranteed publicity, super-heated through the microscopic prism of social media.

The debates have gone back and forth all week, further bedevilled by the mom of the child who was the focus of the advert - and who was handsomely paid for the gig - decrying the outcry and promptly being burnt at the stake of public opprobrium for her heresy.

The fact though is that the ad is undeniably racist.

Thankfully there hasn’t been too much white-splaining of why it isn’t racist, because in the north, where it originated, the term monkey - thanks to racist fans on football terraces armed with bananas - is far more vituperative than we could ever imagine down here in South Africa.

H&M should have known better - this wasn’t the first time they’ve got it wrong. And, people were right to take offence. It doesn’t matter if others don’t get it.

Racism is racism, just like sexism is sexism.

The misdeed is real, what differs is how we respond to it - which is totally subjective and because of that, terribly inconsistent.

It’s like the old philosophy question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Whether it did or didn’t make a sound, it definitely fell. Racism, sexism, sexual harassment and bullying are all like that.

What is also not at issue though is that the EFF broke the law. H&M was offensive, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

There were myriad options open to the "fighters against racism", including taking the Swedish firm to court since the EFF’s national chairperson, Dali Mpofu, is one of South Africa’s most visible advocates.

There could be petitions, protests or economic boycotts, but not violence, the destruction of property and the threat of injury to anyone who stood in their way.

The fact that the EFF chose to break the law, to damage property, makes those fighters guilty of a crime and they should be charged and prosecuted.

We should all be fighting against racism - in its every guise; not just white on black, but black on white too.

The fact that no one really was, created the vacuum for the EFF to step in opportunistically and grab some column centimetres and suck up your data as you watched them attack mannequins on Facebook.

They will be looking at other ways - and photo opportunities - to remain, if not front and centre, then definitely part of the news agenda. On Wednesday they did just that at Hoerskool Overvaal in Vereeniging, when schools returned for the start of the 2018 school year, hot on the heels of the High Court in Pretoria’s refusal to allow Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi to place 55 kids there.

We need to be outraged about anything and everything that flies in the face of every single South African getting a chance of a better life - consistently.

But our inaction, our inconsistent civic-mindedness, our downright social bias is the most telling of all.

And that will be our downfall. Empty platitudes, virtual outrage on social media with a side course of fascist, violent protests all ultimately conspire to avoid us ever having to focus on the real underlying issues.

As Tshepo Khoza, tweeting as @khozalites, put it on Sunday: “Marikana 34 people died. Lonmin offices trashed: 0 Life Esidimeni: 94 people died. Gauteng Health offices trashed: 0 H&M racist advert approved by the mother, zero deaths. Stores trashed: 6. Inference: Innocent deaths deserve far less physical action than racist adverts.”

You can’t argue against that.

* Kevin Ritchie is Independent Media’s Gauteng regional editor. 

Saturday Star