Pretoria - Red T-shirt clad Economic Freedom Fighters closed down South African branches of the international clothing retail giant H&M, including at Menlyn Mall in the city - and will close down any other shop that behaves in a racist manner.
On Saturday EFF members stormed the Swedish retailer’s stores in up-market malls in Pretoria, Joburg and Cape Town, upending racks and pushing over shop dummies.
A video taken at a Menlyn Mall shop has gone viral on social media.
The reason for their violent protest action was an advert for an H&M product, a boy’s green hoodie, modelled by a young black child bearing the words: “Coolest monkey in the jungle.”
After objections were first raised abroad, H&M apologised for the advert and withdrew the item from its online store. “We strongly believe that racism and bias in any shape or form, deliberate or accidental, are simply unacceptable,” H&M said in a statement.
“We have got this wrong and we are deeply sorry.”
But “sorry” is not enough for the EFF which wants to send H&M packing from South Africa.
The party has warned that any other store that undermines black people will also be shut down.
EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema made no apology for his fighters' conduct on Saturday, saying their actions should have taught the massive international retailer a lesson.
Referring to the slogan on the T-shirt, he said the humiliation of black people should not be allowed to continue. “No one should make jokes about the dignity of black people.”
EFF spokesperson Floyd Shivambu praised the protest on Twitter, claiming H&M was “facing consequences for its racism”.
Tshwane EFF chair Benjamin Desoloane warned on Sunday that if H&M tried to reopen its Menlyn branch, the fighters would be back - every day if necessary.
“We believe we made it clear that we want the store closed permanently and not temporarily we hope the mall management received our message,” he said.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said no injuries were reported but the police have opened a case of malicious damage to property.
Police have not arrested any suspects but investigations are ongoing, he said.
Despite numerous efforts, Menlyn Mall management could not be reached for comment.
Several shoppers have spoken of their experience at Menlyn. A woman who was shopping with her daughter said they heard the noise of chanting and looked down from the floor above to see the EFF arriving. She anticipated trouble so they quickly left the mall.
A man who was nearby said he saw the destruction caused by the EFF in the store but when he tried to take pictures with his cellphone they stormed him and threatened him.
When the Pretoria News got to the mall on Saturday, the staff were inside the large store, shaken by what had happened.
On Sunday the doors were locked, windows empty and paper prevented curious shoppers from looking in.
H&M is a major Swedish clothing retailer which entered the South African market in 2015 with a store at the V&A Waterfront. It went on an expansion drive, including being part of the grand relaunch of the extended Menlyn Mall last year.
H&M said it would “continue to monitor the situation closely and will open the stores as soon as the situation is safe again”, read a statement.
Referring to the garment, it said it was investigating what had happened to ensure that nothing similar happened again.
Clothing for H&M is not sourced locally but in various countries, with about 40% reportedly coming from China. It is not clear who was responsible for the slogan, but H&M's statement read: “We stress that our wonderful store staff had nothing to do with our poorly judged product and image.”
However, the mother of the child model, identified as living in Sweden, was reported as describing it as an “unnecessary issue”, saying she did not see it as a racial incident as she could refer to her son as a “cheeky little monkey”.