The EFF has been criticised for damaging H&M stores over ‘monkey’ hoodie ad.Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

The brouhaha over the racially offensive advert referring to “the coolest monkey in the jungle” has lessons for people on both sides of the equator.
To the north, Swedish fashion brand H&M should kick themselves for not heeding a simple adage taught in primary school: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

When the scenes of violent protests by EFF supporters were flashed across Swedish TV screens, many recoiled in shock, confusion and embarrassment.

Shock because, while agreeing the ad showed poor judgement, most Swedes did not necessarily see it as an act of blatant racism.

Confusion because Swedes are generally naive on issues of colour and race, having had little direct experience of them.

Embarrassment because as one of the wealthiest, most developed and safest countries - as author Michael Booth would put it, “the almost nearly perfect people” - they felt ashamed at the hurt caused.

Had H&M run its ad in Sweden, no one would have batted an eyelid.

South of the equator, given our painful experiences of racism, it’s understandable many were offended and had a right to show it through protest. Being called a monkey is insulting to black people and our friends in Europe should be familiar with this racist caricature after seeing football fans throwing bananas at black soccer players.

But this right to protest does not condone the use of hooliganism, the trashing of stores and intimidation of staff and shoppers.

Now that H&M has relented and apologised, we need to accept the company has learnt a lesson.

If Julius Malema and his EFF want to be taken seriously, they need to stop their noisy theatrical antics and get on with the issues that affect the people they claim to represent - the poor and neglected.

Without condoning H&M’s gaffe, shutting its outlets is counter-productive. It leaves more people jobless and exposed to poverty and misery. It also drives away foreign investors our collapsing economy desperately needs.

You’ve made your point, Malema. But if you’re serious about winning meaningful economic freedom and pulling the majority out of poverty and joblessness, let’s work towards renewing investor confidence in our country.

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* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent