Sibongile Mafu

Don't sweat the small race stuff

2013-04-25 07:25

Sibongile Mafu

I enjoy a good advert. As long as it's not interrupting my favourite programmes or bullying its way into what I'm reading. I take joy in praising it when it's good and take a considerable amount of joy in lambasting it when it's unimaginative and weak.

I find that in South Africa I'm constantly bombarded by dull advertising that, for the most part, takes very cheap shots at black people.

I don't have Dstv so I watch a considerable amount of what many label "welfare" television. I have very limited choice in terms of programming so when I do watch something, I watch all of it, including the advertisements, and boy are they poor.

In a recent column I read by Jeremy Maggs, from Maggs on Media, titled "Enough With the singing dancing Blacks", he made a clear point about how there was conclusive evidence that black people shout and dance when they purchase and use a productive. Unless you're selling me dancing shoes or a loudhailer, there is no need for this. Adverts like this make me angry and annoyed and give me some good complaining material for social media but am I expending too much energy on the small race stuff?

Are these petty things really where my focus should lie in terms of understanding racism, and how it lives so strongly in our day-to-day lives?

Should we let it slip?

This week there has been uproar around a radio advertisement for Xpanda, a security gate manufacturer, which many have labelled as racist, offensive and frankly, just bad. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, many think it's clever, "true" and funny. Below is a transcript for the 30 second advert:

Voice artists 1: "What you inside for, boet?"

Voice artists 2: "Eish, I was so hungry. So I walk up to the kitchen by the boss's house and grab a roast chicken. The madam, she slammed the Xpanda door in my face. No way out. That is how I ended up in jail, with no chicken. Eish."

Voice artists 3: "Xpanda, arguably the world's best barrier security company. Dial 0861972632, or visit, to get your safety on."

What am I troubled by the most? Maybe how poor it is, and completely unfunny. How it manages to squeeze in an incredible amount of nothing into 30 seconds, drawing from every stereotypical advert blueprint known to man. And thirdly, that a group of creative South Africans approved this and thought it was good to go. They probably all high-fived each other in the room, each one reassuring the next that they had hit Nando's-like gold.

The Managing Director of Xpanda found nothing wrong with the advert, saying that all who worked on it had a blast. There are also other adverts in the campaign that also featured jailed white, Indian and coloured men which will roll out soon. I haven't seen the scripts for those but I'm already cringing.

Should I even be upset about this? I should be saving my weapons and ammunition for bigger battles down the line. Or maybe get a sense of humour. But surely it's these very incidents that we should be crying out about. If we let this slip, we'll be okay letting everything else slip, leaving us with very little that's changed.

Battle versus war

I sometime wonder if reform is about changing the small things, hoping that it will eventually add up to a big thing, or if it's about changing one big thing that will change everything. The battle versus the war.

But does fighting these "small" battles mean I must get actively upset about everything I find demeaning? Or only the uncreative ones like this one?

If you're going to be offensive, do it with a little bit of finesse.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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