Clicks hair ad debacle was always going to be too much of a low hanging fruit to dismiss

AFTER a five-month long hiatus from the politics of spectacle – if not the politics of greed, the Clicks hair ad debacle was always going to be too much of a low hanging fruit to dismiss. Just why anyone could ever have allowed the massively insensitive, hurtful and stupid Tresemme ad to pass in the first place is astonishing.

Perhaps now the lesson will finally be internalised among ad agencies the length and breadth of the country. Perhaps now Unilever, the monolith that looms over most of the retail activity in this country, might finally wake-up too, after all this wasn’t its first rodeo.

There are, as Professor Adam Habib noted, many ways to effect change; the Human Rights Commission for one. We could also resort to the age old South African tactic of a consumer boycott. What we don’t need is what we had this week, but how do we get the EFF to change from the politics of spectacle and diversion to actually providing a sustainable, rational alternative?

On Sunday, Julius Malema tweeted “@Clicks_SA see you tomorrow. Fellow fighters and ground forces; ATTACK!!!” By Monday, the tweet had been deleted. By Tuesday, the EFF was blaming a “third force”, for the violence that typically followed.

It was vintage EFF playbook. A lot of fire (literally in the stores that had been petrol bombed – one of them allegedly by an EFF MP who is out on parole, which isn’t going to end well) and fury as “fighters” in red shirts caused mayhem; a Kristallnacht of condoms, laxatives and make-up rather than molesting the mannequins at H&M like they did last time.

The people who bore the brunt of the actual protest were the very people who the protest was supposed to be protecting. But, to paraphrase Dando @SaintSdumo, what can you expect from people who cosplay low income workers while living large as MPs?

By Thursday, the EFF and the heads of Unilever and Tresemme had emerged from day long peace talks. Each made concessions. On the face of it, the EFF had won some ground but as the dust settles and the now notorious shampoo returns to the shelves in about a week’s time, the truth is that the EFF scored a very costly own goal in the process.

For a start, there’s the party’s own Che Guevara, the one-time People’s Bae Mbuyiseni Ndlozi whose attempt to defend the indefensible – fighters manhandling a female journalist – mansplaining what he thought should constitute sexual harassment opened a pandora’s box.

All of a sudden, the party was under attack for its silence on so many other more pressing societal issues like gender-based violence and misogyny, to say nothing of its invisibility during lockdown when so many other South Africans were trying their hardest to help the most vulnerable.

But the one thing that may well prove to have a far longer shelf life than the last suds of shampoo being rinsed down the drain from this protest is Malema’s tweet.

That wasn’t a call to action, but war. You go to jail for that.

Originally published on 12 September 2020 in the Saturday Star