As Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema promised the shutdown of Clicks stores would continue for the week ‘to make them lose money’, the Democratic Alliance (DA) said it would lay charges against the party for ‘incitement to violence and destruction of property’.
The government said in a statement that, while it was ‘equally disturbed by the crude racist display’ in the advertisement behind the EFF’s campaign against Clicks, the ‘acts of lawlessness of vandalising and burning down Clicks stores … are concerning and go against the spirit of peace and respect for human rights’.
In firmer terms, Finance minister Tito Mboweni entered the fray with a tweet warning that ‘allowing disorderly behaviour will come back to haunt this country’.
The advertisement at the centre of the forced shutdown of the retail chain carried photographs of two black women, whose hair was described in captions as ‘dry and damaged’ and ‘frizzy and dull’, and two white women, whose hair was described as ‘fine and flat hair’ and ‘normal hair’.
Clicks apologised and withdrew the advertisement for TRESemme hair products, which had been provided by supplier Unilever, and announced it had suspended two staff members responsible for airing the advertisement.
Clicks Group CEO Vikesh Ramsunder said he was ‘deeply disappointed’, and that ‘transformation’ was a priority for the organisation.
EFF leader Julius Malema, however, was not mollified.
News24 quoted him as saying: ‘We are saying they must close the whole week because they value money more than humanity. They wanted to make money out of [sic] our expense.’ The EFF said the rationale for demanding that Clicks stores remained closed for the week was ‘to make them lose money’.
Clicks said last night EFF protest action had been reported at 425 stores. Petrol bombs were hurled at the entrances of at least two stores in the early hours yesterday. The company said it strongly condemned violence of any kind, intimidation of staff and its customers and the vandalising of its stores.
The South African Human Rights Commission announced that it had ‘launched an own-initiative investigation into this matter’, and written to Clicks to ask for a meeting so that the retail chain could ‘explain itself concerning the content of the advert’.
DA MP Andrew Whitfield said that while the party ‘recognise the upset and anger the Clicks advert has caused to many South Africans’, it strongly condemned the EFF members’ behaviour, and would lay charges against Malema’s party.
The EFF’s ‘violent response is unacceptable and SAPS has a duty to act against Julius Malema and others who have made explicit statements inciting EFF members to commit criminal acts’.
He also noted that the Notice of Motion application brought by Clicks to stop the EFF protest ‘explicitly stated that SAPS should respond to any calls from Clicks stores where EFF members are intimidating or threatening staff or damaging property and disrupting businesses’.
Whitfield said the DA would write to police minister Bheki Cele, and National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole, to ask what steps they would be taking against the EFF’s actions.
He said: ‘We can never allow individuals and political parties to commit such horrific acts of vigilante violence and if SAPS fails to respond with decisive action they will be in dereliction of their duty.’
The EFF’s actions ‘will affect the livelihoods of thousands of Clicks employees who will bear the brunt of this destruction’.
In a statement early today, the IRR said: ‘At a time of great hardship for millions of people, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) yesterday found themselves unable to place South Africans above petty political theatre.
‘The economy is in a dire state, unemployment poses a massive threat to the lives and livelihoods of many, and society is desperate for hope. At such a critical juncture, the EFF demonstrated its callousness and deafness to the very real plight of South Africans by staging its theatre of the empty gesture.’
The IRR said that when ‘unemployment threatens to overwhelm many homes, the EFF used violence to shut down places of work, placing jobs at risk and depriving customers of access to essential medications. In doing so, the party found itself on the wrong side of good sense, Ubuntu and the South African Constitution.’
Protest was a ‘fundamental constitutional right’, it said, but ‘no-one has the right to inflict harm on others as the EFF so blatantly did yesterday in several protests at Clicks pharmacies’.
It noted that research on South African race relations and attitudes conducted by the IRR ‘makes clear that the behaviour of the EFF represents a rejection of the fundamental decency of the vast majority of South Africans, who want to live in prosperous communities in a peaceful country’.
It added: ‘The law must now be seen to be applied to the EFF’s violent and coercive conduct. Failure to impose severe sanctions for the incitement and violence seen yesterday will illustrate that all are not equal before the law.’