Let's stop monkeying about when it comes to racism
The H&M controversy has focused minds on how to solve the SA problem that refuses to go away
Global clothing retailer H&M has embarked on an aggressive programme with the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (Arnsa) to learn about racism and transformation. This follows the widespread outrage and protests over its controversial advert featuring a black child wearing a hoodie with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle”.
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation director Neeshan Balton said H&M has admitted to Arnsa that its advert had been a mistake, and its management and staff in South Africa are undergoing training “to fully understand the complexity of race relations and racism in the country”.
Speaking at the launch of Anti-Racism Week at the Apartheid Museum on Tuesday, Balton said the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, which is part of the anti-racism network, was running the training programme for H&M.Part of H&M’s global team would also be trained as part of the retailer’s commitment to deal with racism and transformation. A team from Arnsa would be travelling to the retailer’s headquarters in Sweden in April to share “our perspectives on why the advert was wrong and why there was implicit bias”, Balton said.
He said the anti-racism network had planned to stage demonstrations at H&M outlets after the advert was published but withdrew after the EFF embarked on a series of violent protests at the stores.
H&M’s global human resources head and transformation officer came to South Africa to meet with Arnsa after the Kathrada Foundation wrote to the retailer’s headquarters to express its disquiet about the advert.
“We are mindful that had the EFF not done what they did, H&M would never have agreed to meet with the Arnsa,” Balton said.
Speaking at the anti-racism launch, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said new legislation that would criminalise racism would be tabled at a cabinet committee meeting on Thursday. The bill was published last year and had received substantive public comment, Mthethwa said.
Once passed by cabinet, the bill, which would allow hate speech and hate crimes to be criminally prosecuted, would be channelled through parliament, Mthethwa said.
Delivering the keynote address at the event, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said post democracy affirmative action indigenisation policies have had mixed success in combatting the racial imbalances in the economy.
“They have been less effective when the state is weak and unable to target disadvantaged groups well; when benefits are captured by elites; or when the policies discourage private fixed investment and provoke capital flight, due for example to threatened property rights,” Jonas said.
He said there had been significant changes in the pattern of earnings but less so in patterns of wealth.“The income earned by black people has gone from roughly one third to just over half of national income over the past 20 years. Black people now constitute about half of the top 10% of income earners but only a quarter of the top 1% of earners. The black middle class, broadly defined, has grown from about four million in 1994 to about nine million by 2014.”
He said the structure of capital had changed in South Africa since 1994, but not in ways that have benefitted the black majority.
Jonas said that improving public education should be the country’s primary focus to increase economic growth potential and the employment prospects of the marginalised.
“We must also accept that upending centuries of racism will take successive generations willing to do their part – fighting against it in the streets, in courtrooms, in classrooms and lecture halls, in boardrooms and trading floors, on factory floors and in our homes.
“Only this relentlessness will narrow the gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of our time,” Jonas said.