Advertising is an area of visual/media arts that many South Africans and South African companies have always exhibited and continue to exhibit high levels of talent and creativity. One of the companies on top of their game in this area is Nando’s, a worldwide famed South African fast food chain especially known for its peri-peri chicken. In recent years, Nando’s have become known for their parody-spiced TV campaigns for their products. Their satire-marinated ads often make viewers laugh first, and then make them think (beyond the chicken). A few times, however, their ads have sparked controversies. Hence, it was surprising to some, and not to others, that their recent Diversity TV campaign (an ad that satirised xenophobia in South Africa) got banned in South Africa in June.

The commercial opened with a voice saying, “You know what’s wrong with South Africa? Its all you foreigners.” It went on to call out different foreigners (Nigerians, Camerounians, Chinese, Europeans) who kept on vanishing in puffs of smoke. This pattern continued even with the mention of ethnic groups like Zulu and Venda. But when it came to the turn of a traditional Khoisan man (the only one left), he said: “I’m not going anywhere. You @&*$# found us here.” The commercial ends with the tagline, “Real South Africans love diversity”, as they introduce the two new additions to their chicken menu. Tongue-in-cheek, but clearly, Nando’s intended this as a call to South Africans to espouse diversity, a message pitifully lost on the broadcasters.

First, the national broadcaster, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) refused to flight the ad, and then DStv and e.tv followed suit and pulled it off their platforms after running it a couple of times. It is over a month ago that these events played out, hence it is old news. Still, I may want to add that Nando’s came out with a print version of the said ad which was read all around and beyond the corners of South Africa. What is more, at this moment, the video has been viewed at least 500, 000 times over on Youtube.

Last month, William, a Congolese immigrant in South Africa was introduced on Rhythm City, a drama series which e.tv airs. On one of the episodes, William narrated the story of his fellow Congolese who suffered a xenophobic attack from South Africans in one of the informal settlements. Subsequently, William himself also experiences xenophobic sentiments in later episodes. Very recently, I went online to read the Rhythm City teasers for July and found out that William also would be subjected to more flippant, albeit spiteful and insensitive xenophobia. It was then that I began to wonder why e.tv banned the Nandos Diversity commercial, which it said trivialised xenophobia…a sensitive and volatile issue in South Africa, according to Monde Twala (e.tv’s head of channels). As far as I can deduce, Nandos 53 seconds advert is a succinct version of what Rhythm City and e.tv are trying to do for hours. Hence, I personally think that banning the commercial was an opportunity for more viewer rating and revenue impetuously thrown away.

Talking about rating and revenue, DStv who initially shelved the commercial with the explanation that it could be deemed offensive, later backtracked just two weeks after. It was the same DStv that said that we are not convinced that all our viewers will interpret it in the way intended, referring to parody in the commercial. The pay-TV broadcaster later claimed it decided to lift the ban on the ad after the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) dismissed complaints about it. However, Thabang Ramogase (marketing manager at Nando’s) said Nando’s would rather not flight the commercial on DStv anymore as the broadcaster’s volte-face was a reaction to the fact that TopTV, who happens to be DStv’s competitor, accepted to flight the advert.

On SABC’s part, and may be in line with their motto (Broadcasting for Total Citizen Empowerment), the broadcaster said the advert contained xenophobic undertones and could engender violence. This is inanely ironical, considering that the so-called xenophobic ad used satire to champion the call for the fight against xenophobia. More so, the commercial is a part of a larger charity campaign by Nando’s (in partnership with a non-profit group, Cheesekids) that seeks to build several pop up soup kitchens in parts of the country that suffered xenophobic attacks. This was Nando’s walking the talk, something SABC and the other broadcasters should actually consider exemplar and strive to promote, instead of insulting the intelligence and discretionary faculties of South African television viewers. Oh, and SABC also stated that the commercial contravened the ASA Act, an assertion that was squashed by the ASA who stated that the commercial clearly contrasted the “voice of xenophobia” with the “voice of reason”. The same SABC promotes “Man on Ground”, a movie inspired by and loosely based on the events of the xenophobic attacks of May 2008, on its website with the title, “SA film provokes debate on xenophobia”. Well, the Nigerian-born South African producer/director (Akin Omotoso) is one of their own.

Frankly, I was and am still happy that I saw the commercial on e.tv (at least, twice) before it was banned. It made me laugh. Then, it made me think. It made me read up a little more on South African history. Then, it made me read up more on African history. Xenophobia is not peculiar to South Africa, but if South African leader’s would rather the threat not be dealt with head on, then it would likely become an inimitable South African malaise. Hopefully, Christians would not be banned from quoting Leviticus 25:23 or 1 Chronicles 29:15, where we were all called aliens, strangers, foreigners, sojourners…

What do you think?

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