Heated debates around racism continue online following a Clicks advertisement labelled as racist, as EFF protests resulted in store closures nationwide on Wednesday. The South African Human Rights Commission says it will be engaging with Clicks management to understand why the so-called racist Tresemme hair product advertisement was given the go-ahead. The ad made a comparison between the hair of black women being called ‘dull and dry’ while a white women’s was labelled as ‘normal.’ The products have since been removed from the stores.
The commission’s Andre Guam says although it acknowledges the retailer’s apology, suspension of staff and resignation of another, there needs to be protocol in place to ensure a similar incident doesn’t occur again.
“We have noted the apology from the clicks Group CEO, but the commission wants to understand what measures Clicks will take to guard against such adverts in future. Also, what other accountability and sensitivity measures the company intends to take,” he said.
“We must remember that, for years, hair has been a sight of harm and hurt for black women and girls and carries with it a history of trauma. We all remember the notorious pencil test during apartheid years,” he added.
“Unfortunately, the world over, people were led to believe that the ideal version of women are white women with straight flowy hair- like the one depicted as having “normal hair”. This has damaged the self-worth of black women and girls tremendously,” said Gaum.
The EFF had, since Monday, engaged in demonstrations across the country, which included looting and the petrol-bombing of a Clicks store. Staff and customers were also intimidated, and stores were forcibly closed. The party has however distanced itself from any violence. Guam added that the commission was “very concerned” with the acts of criminality which resulted in several arrests.
On Tuesday, the retailer had been granted an urgent interdict prohibiting the EFF from disrupting business. Despite this, the party maintained their right to protest and demonstrations continued well into Wednesday. The retailer issued a statement last on Tuesday, explaining that stores will be closed to allow staff to obtain counselling.
“The closure means Clicks will be unable to provide medication to customers, along with public sector medicine pick-up points being temporarily un-available. Clicks recognise the significant impact this event has had on its people and customers and is doing everything to ensure their safety and wellbeing,” read a statement by Clicks.
“While the cost of the rampant vandalism and looting at many stores is still being determined, Clicks says it is considering the remedies available to it, but no decision has yet been finalised. “
The SAHRC meanwhile wrote a letter directed at Clicks and Unilever wherein it requested a meeting, having noted the seemingly racist content of the ad and strong emotions that it evoked from the public. Clicks confirmed receipt of the letter and said it is “in the process of responding to the letter and engaging with the Commission”.
“We call on South Africans to exercise their right to protest- peacefully. When it is not done peacefully in an unarmed manner, such protest is not protected by the constitution,” he said.
Guam said that the advertisement was not simply a “quality control” but instead about “institutional culture”. He pointed to resolutions to a similar case where the transgressing company adopted an anti-racism policy and internal training.
Community Chest CEO Lorenzo Davids meanwhile deemed the Clicks saga as one that “should not be let go of very quickly”, adding that the acceptance of an apology only would be a “disservice to our children”.
“We should pause as a country and ask ourselves questions about why is it that this kind of overtly racist behaviour lingers within the framework of our democracy. We need to get clicks into a national conversation as to why this is happening 27 years into our democracy. How is it that in a company as huge as Clicks, TRESseme and all the role players within that corporate entity, that nobody raised a red flag?” questioned Davids.
Davids argued that the country in fact requires critical thinkers who are “alert” and “can identify racial bias to avoid these types of occurrences.”
“What we actually need in society is a race-aware society, not just embrace non-racialism as if race does not matter. Race is too critical a factor in the South African design to be ignored. We are not paying attention to the deep roots that exist in corporate, NGO and religious South Africa, that makes this so possible,” said Davids.
“The burden of race passivity in any society is carried by the victims,” he said, adding that this has always been ‘blacks’.
Davids also called out the actions of EFF party leader Julius Malema for not urging his party members to refrain from violence. He added that their actions during demonstrations “borderlines urban terrorism”.
“The EFF is a party represented in Parliament. They’ve signed a code of conduct, electoral code of conduct. They uphold parliamentary values and parliamentary behaviour. There’s a lackadaisical approach that in Parliament they can do one thing but in the public they can incite violence.”
Davids further urged the party to regroup and tackle the issue appropriately.
“I think the EFF needs to reconsider its strategies. They have a big role to play in politics and framing democracy. But they make the mistake, all the time, of going too far. When you are dealing with thousands of people, you must be careful about how you mobilize. When we incite we must incite with intelligence, not just a passion to destroy.”