Africa

'Racist' shampoo advertisement sparks protests in South Africa

Angry South Africans demonstrate in front of Clicks Pharmacy stores after opposition EFF calls for protests.

Protesters have gathered outside several pharmacy chain stores in South Africa in reaction to a shampoo advertisement slammed by the critics as “racist”.

The advertisement, commissioned by the TRESemme hair company and carried on the Clicks pharmacies’ website, compared two photos of Black women’s hair with two photos of white women’s hair, labelling the natural hair “dry and damaged” and “frizzy and dull”, while the white women’s hair was “fine and flat” and “normal”.

The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party on Monday called for demonstrations over the issue and rallied people to protest outside the company’s outlets.

“We will not permit the unrepentant and perverse racism of Clicks to go on in South Africa. #clicksmustfall,” the EFF posted on Twitter.

Local website TimesLive reported that at least one store had been petrol-bombed early in the morning, causing minor damage.

Videos on the EFF’s social media pages and in local media showed small groups of protesters – clad in the party’s red berets – dancing and singing protest songs in several malls.

Many on social media also expressed their outrage over the advertisement, with Black women posting photos of their hair with hashtags #RacismMustFall and #BlackHairIsNormal.

“Not only is this disrespectful to black lives, it is also evidence of an absence of representation and diversity within the organisation,” tweeted Zozibini Tunzi, who wears short natural hair and was crowned Miss Universe in December. 

“And we are talking about a South Africa with a population of about 80 percent black people… No ways.”

Apology

As anger over the advertisement grew, Clicks Pharmacy, one of the two largest retailers in the country with more than 500 stores, issued “an unequivocal apology” and pulled down the images.

“We are strong advocates of natural hair and are deeply sorry we have offended our natural hair community,” it said in a statement on its Twitter account on Friday.

“We have made a mistake and sincerely apologise for letting you down.”

Unilever SA, TRESemme’s parent company, published an apology on its website that read: “We are very sorry that images used in a TRESemme South Africa marketing campaign on the Clicks website promote racist stereotypes about hair.

“The campaign set out to celebrate the beauty of all hair types and the range of solutions that TRESemmé offers, but we got it wrong.”

Hair is a sensitive issue in many parts of Africa.

South African students have had to campaign in the past to be allowed to wear natural hairstyles – like dreadlocks, afros and cornrows – at school.

In 2018, the EFF staged protests, trashing outlets of Swedish clothing giant Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) in Johannesburg over a controversial advertisement featuring a Black boy.

A photo on H&M’s website of the boy wearing a green hoodie with the inscription “coolest monkey in the jungle” had triggered outrage on social media.

H&M and Clicks are not the only major companies to be hit by advertisement scandals in recent years.

Spanish clothing brand Zara in 2014 removed striped pyjamas with a yellow star after facing outrage over its resemblance to clothes worn by Jewish prisoners in concentration camps.

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