The controversial DA Students Organisation (DASO) poster.

The interracial couple in the DA Student Organisation (Daso) poster that got everyone talking this week may not even be aware they featured in a political campaign – or of the controversy around their embrace.

They might not even be South African.

And the photo could have cost as little as R148.

The ready-made image was sourced from an internet-based photo library, according to DA Youth national director Aimee Franklin, one of the five-strong national management team that created the poster under the motto “In OUR future you wouldn’t think twice”.

“We sourced it online from a library of images ... already last year,” she told Independent Newspapers.

This was after they dropped their initial plans to shoot the image themselves. A trawl through the internet photo library identified by Franklin, Shutterstock, threw up the same models in a range of significantly more explicit poses than the one selected for the Daso poster.

Still, the image that the DA Youth chose managed to spark heated public debate on social media and talk radio, with many objecting to what they called the sexual overtones.

Others, like ANC Gauteng caucus spokeswoman Gugu Ndima and Cosatu in KwaZulu-Natal, respectively, critiqued the poster as more of the Irish coffee effect, putting white people on top, and entrenching “white supremacy”.

“Some black people still choose to be used as fronting apparatus in order to drive a blemished agenda of transformation,” Ndima wrote in the Pretoria News’s sister newspaper, The Star, saying putting black faces on posters or in prominent positions in the DA did not solve that party’s “deeper fundamental incongruities”.

KwaZulu-Natal Cosatu secretary Zet Luzipo put it bluntly: “The posture says join the DA to have an affair with a white person. The DA thinks our struggle for democracy was about the Immorality Act and the Group Areas Act. We will not be excited with having an affair with a white person.”

The response from Shutterstock to inquiries for the models’ contact details – according to a home page search they apparently signed release forms – was that it could not confirm the photo was one of its own and thus, it could not provide details of the two featured models.

“Unfortunately, Shutterstock policy prohibits me from revealing such information. As for the image itself, I can find no evidence that the image used in the picture was sourced from Shutterstock. I do note that the image is available through several other stock photo outlets,” wrote William Clark, associate counsel at Shutterstock Images LLC in an e-mail response.

The New York-based photo library, which boasts 17 million royalty free photos, charges between $19 (roughly R148) for one photo download and $49 (around R382) for five pictures, but also offers subscription terms starting at $249 (around R1 942) for a month at 25 photo downloads a day.

However, the DA Youth this week remained adamant the poster campaign, launched to coincide with university registrations, was right for the time to open a public and honest debate on race. DA Youth leader Makashule Gana said the poster was “unapologetically intended to provoke debate”.

Franklin said she was shocked by some of the responses, including e-mails talking of the poster as “encouraging interbreeding… and ending up with a diluted mongrel race”. This showed “how intolerant” large sections of society still were, she said.

“I’ve been horrified. This is a bigger problem than we thought.” - Political Bureau