South African Political Party Organizes Protests Over ‘Racist H&M Ad’
Given South Africa’s history of problematic racial relations, detractors of H&M South Africa believe the ad displayed insensitivity, disrespect for black Africans and even blatant racism.
Popular Swedish clothing retail store H &M came under fire in South Africa after they featured five-year old child model Liam Mang (who is a black child) wearing a green hoodie with the words “coolest monkey in the jungle”.
South Africa has a 40 plus year history of institutionalized segregation and discrimination via the apartheid system. Apartheid officially ended in 1991. Racial inequalities continue to exist in the country as a result of centuries of colonization and racial discrimination.
Given South Africa’s history of problematic racial relations, detractors of H&M South Africa believe the ad displayed insensitivity, disrespect for black Africans and some argue even blatant racism.
Black African people have for centuries been negatively associated with monkeys especially in countries, like South Africa, that have struggled with issues of racism and discrimination.
The mother of Liam, Terry Mango who resides in Sweden has since spoken out about the ad and stated that she believed it was not racist.
“To put the T-shirt and the word ‘monkey’ with racism maybe that is not my way of looking at it. I’m just looking at Liam, a young black boy modelling a T-shirt that has the word monkey on it. And I think everybody should respect opinions on racism” said Mango.
During an interview with British daytime show This Morning, Mango did however say that the public’s outcry is not an overreaction.
“’It is not an overreaction when it comes to racism. Everybody should act differently based on their own opinions on what racism is” said Mango.
Last week H&M apologized for the advertisement and has since removed it but outcry over the ad continues.
The ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a political party in South Africa, staged protests and vandalized stores in the Western Cape, in Limpopo and in Gauteng.
The police used rubber bullets to clear the crowds outside an H&M store in Boksburg last Saturday. In Johannesburg protesters trashed H&M stores, pulled down mannequins, wrecked displays and pushed over clothing rails.
The EFF are a breakaway party from the ruling African National Congress. They are led by controversial former ANC youth leader, Julius Malema.
The controversy surrounding EFF centers around their advocation for the expropriation of land from white farmers without compensation. Malema also created controversy in 2016 when he claimed that he was not calling for the slaughter of the country’s white minority, “at least for now”.
After protests took place at various branches of H&M across the country, the company decided to temporarily close all of its stores in order to keep staff and shoppers safe.
“What matters most to us is the safety of our employees and customers,” said a statement from H&M South Africa.
“We have temporarily closed our stores in South Africa. None of our staff or customers have been injured. We continue to monitor the situation closely and will open the stores as soon as the situation is safe again.”
South Africa’s opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) on Monday announced that it would be reporting H&M to the International Chamber of Commerce as they believe that the ad breaks marketing guidelines.
“The DA will also write to H&M South Africa to express our deep concern over this tasteless advert which evokes painful sentiments among Black South Africans as well as the Black community abroad.” the party said in a statement.
The DA condemned the displays of violence at H&M stores around the country. “The displays of violence at H&M stores across the country are totally unacceptable and violence is no way to fight racism but only compounds it.”
Following the incident popular musicians G-Eazy and The Weeknd cut ties with the retailer.
Race relations are a deeply sensitive issue in South Africa. In cities racial relations have improved somewhat since apartheid. But most communities remain segregated along racial lines, a trend which has continued since the days of Apartheid.