So, our glorious public broadcaster has refused to screen the latest Nando’s ‘Diversity’ ad. Unfortunately, this shouldn’t come as any surprise. The SABC has a long history of avoiding controversy at any cost, usually because the organisation is afraid to run foul of its political masters (nothing new here – the SABC was always designed to be a mouthpiece for the ruling government, whether National Party or the ANC).
Rather, this particular instance of ideological cowardice is supposedly based on cultural sensitivity; a fear that the mere mention of xenophobia will spark off another deplorable wave of bigotry and shop burning, such as we witnessed a couple of years ago. While this general concern does have some validity in a country fraught with xenophobic tension, the SABC’s reasoning as it relates to the commercial is, of course, craven nonsense.
You see, although the SABC has said that it is concerned about the ad’s ‘xenophobic undertone’ which ‘the public might interpret…differently’, I think there is another reason for the erstwhile ban – and this is how it goes…
As the ad points out, only the Khoi-San people are truly indigenous to our beloved country. The inference being that every other cultural group in South Africa is actually a settler. The BaNtu people (people who spoke the Ntu language) actually originated in western Africa before embarking on an extended diaspora that crossed the Limpopo about 1500 years ago. These early iron-age settlers later developed into the modern Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, Swazi and Venda that we know today.
Then, the Europeans started arriving after the sea route to the East was opened in the 1500s. The Cape Malays (forebears of the so-called ‘so-called Coloureds’) were slaves from Indonesia, brought in by the Dutch. Indians generally came over as indentured labourers to work on the sugar fields of Natal in the 1800s. Finally, the diamond and gold rushes of the late 19th century kick started the economy and attracted additional waves of settlers from across Africa and the world – a process that continues to this day. And so was the Rainbow Nation created in all its wondrous diversity.
This socio-political history is all undisputed fact, but many South Africans resent being told that they are immigrants. Why? Because if we are all essentially settlers, then we are all equal. And if we are all equal, then we all have an equal claim to our country of birth: black, white, british, Boers. In other words, unless you want to impose a certain number of generations as a pre-requisite for membership, anyone who is born on this continent has the right to call themselves an African if they so choose.
It is this kind of position, I believe, which could stick in the craws of some ideologues who like to assert that the ‘settlers’ (meaning whiteys and people from north of the Limpopo) must bugger off and go home. For this kind of blinkered thinker, we might all be equal but some are more equal than others. And it is precisely this kind of sneaky ‘Animal Farm’ elision that is being challenged in the Nando’s commercial. As such, it is a controversy that the SABC is keen to avoid – lest it engender some actual introspection and public debate.
In other words, the gutless wonders at the SABC have, once again, underestimated the South African public’s ability to think for themselves and stifled an excellent opportunity for open discussion. Meanwhile, Nando’s has added another feather in its cap. IMHO.