The time for dilly-dallying about racism is over

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EFF members outside the Clicks store in Goodwood Mall. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

The despicable and deeply offensive hair advertisement that Clicks aired on their website was certainly no ‘mistake’. It reflects a deep-seated, and prevailing racism, that is evidently embedded in the company DNA of Clicks, as well as sadly and sickening throughout many businesses, and in general, in our South African society.

The Group CEO of Clicks, Vikesh Ramsunder, in his pathetically weak apology, had chosen to describe the advertisement as a “error of judgement” and “mistake” only confirms how insidious and deeply rooted racism is in our country. Especially in big business and corporate South Africa, that continue to be managed and dominated by whites, on behalf of White Monopoly Capital (WMC).

The racism of the Clicks advertisement is not a ‘mistake’, it is the norm, and it permeates every nook and cranny of these businesses and their destructive role in our South African society. Overwhelmingly big businesses, owned and controlled by White Monopoly Capital, are not companies that periodically display racism from time-to-time, they are in their bone-and-marrow racist institutions.

Let’s not beat about the bush, that hateful Clicks advertisement was no mistake, it is an expression of exactly who and what they are. They cannot absolve themselves from their racist being, or expunge their intrinsic racist nature, by calling the unseemly display of it an ‘error of judgement’. It certainly was not an ‘oversight’ by some derelict employee or an ‘oopsie mistake’ by an advertising company that ‘fumbled’ and provided the ‘wrong’ photos.

These are institutions that are in the origins of their historical formation culturally white. Their founders were/are white, the owners/major shareholders are white, the cultural norms that they aspire to and pay homage to are white. In short, the money, and power that controls and ultimately give direction to them, are white.

That they have struck some Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deals, and have a minority of black shareholders does not change any of this. In fact it affirms a culture of white domination, fronting, manipulation and control, that cynically use their posturing about black economic empowerment, as a guise to avoid fundamental radical economic transformation, and the empowerment and control of big/monopoly business, by black (especially African) South Africans.

The racism of these white-controlled companies is ultimately found in who are the owners, and in the case of listed companies who are the controlling shareholders. To be honest, we all know the answers, every year the damning statistics of the pitiful small shareholdings of black (especially African) South Africans on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) scream to the heavens. The annual statistics published by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) only confirm that whites (especially white males) continue to dominate and control top managerial positions. I do not need to quote those statistics, here again, they are too well-known. In fact that knowledge is part of our racist South African shame.

In recent years this shameful racist legacy of continuing white domination has become even worse with the increasing trend of appointing white executives in the State-Owned Enterprises (SOE’s), accompanied by the insidiously racist narrative that they are being brought in to correct the alleged mismanagement by black executives who are deemed to have ‘failed’. Increasingly black executives and managers are under attack, and there seems to be a deliberate, and intensifying, process of undermining and disempowering them.

White-owned companies, and also in the instance of white controlled SOE’s, will behave in accordance to who, and what, they are: Namely white. So, we should really not be surprised when a company like Clicks confirms what it is, and so blatantly states that the norm for ‘healthy and normal’ hair is white.

Not so long ago H&M did the same with an advertisement featuring an African boy modelling a hoodie with the slogan, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”. Just like Clicks the white-controlled management tried to shrug it off as having made an unintentional “mistake”, even calling “casual racism”.

However, the truth is that similarly to Clicks there was certainly nothing ‘casual’ about any of this. These companies are simply telling us exactly who and what they are: White and Racist! Talk to the black employees of these white companies, and ask them if they are happy and feel at home. Overwhelmingly they are not. In essence, these companies are experienced as culturally alien and white. Employment there is mostly a necessary evil, born out of a desperate need for jobs to earn money and to take care of families. Quite rightly there is no sense of belonging, or that these companies care at all for black workers. Black workers certainly do not feel at home!

I am not writing to mince my words, nor make anyone feel better. The time for trying to apply plasters on the gaping racist wounds of our society is long gone. I am not interested in buying anyone’s face, including my own organization, the African National Congress (ANC). For over two and a half decades now we have, as the governing party, been advancing Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (BBEE), and yet our South African economy continues to be white-owned and controlled. The majority of black (especially African) South Africans continue to be economically marginalized, exploited, and poor. Evidently we have failed to achieve our objective of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE).

For years we have been complaining about the insidious, and blatant, racism that continues to be so brazenly displayed by whites. Lately, this is getting worse, not better. White supremacist racist websites, and WhatsApp groups, are mushrooming everywhere. On social media white South Africans are open, with the most disgustingly derisive and racist language, insulting their fellow black South Africans – apparently without any fear of being apprehended and made to pay the price for their racism. Evidently we are dismally failing to confront and apprehend the scourge of racism.

On all these fronts the ANC, as the leader of society and the vanguard Liberation Movement, should hang our heads in shame. We have to do much better!

The time is now to bring this untenable situation once and for all to an end. As the African National Congress we must have the courage of our convictions to implement Radical Economic Transformation (RET), and to adopt the required legislation to bring the white ownership of our land and economy finally to an end. White economic control is the foundation of white arrogance and racism, and as long as it is not addressed decisively white racism will continue unabated.

Simultaneously, while embarking on such a comprehensive and deliberate legislative programme to restore the land and our economy to rightful black (especially African) ownership, we must urgently pass legislation that will outlaw every form of racism, and make sure that those whites who make themselves guilty of racism will be made to pay a very heavy price – including long prison sentences and the forfeiture of their companies, and other properties.

The time for dilly-dallying is truly over!

*Ambassador Carl Niehaus is an ANC veteran. He is a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of MKMVA and National Spokesperson of MKMVA. He wrote this article in his                                                      personal capacity.