Minister for Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says that she rejects the apology issued by Clicks management and has instead outlined alternatives that the business should follow instead.
This comes after the pharmaceutical retailer came under fire due to a racially insensitive advert shown on its website.
The advert, supplied to it by the TRESemmé shampoo brand being promoted, included pictures of four women – two black and two white – and described the hair of the two black women as ‘dry and damaged; and ‘frizzy and dull’, while the images depicting the white women’s hair were described as ‘fine and flat hair’ and ‘normal hair’.
As a result, the advert was seen to undermine the dignity of black South Africans and suggested that the “hair of black people is damaged and inferior to that of white people”.
Clicks swiftly responded to the outrage over the images by pulling the adverts from its website, and apologised to those who were offended by it. Subsequently, the staff responsible for the oversight have been suspended, and the group has promised to learn from the incident and effect change.
TRESemmé South Africa and Unilever also apologised for the advert.
However, in a statement on Monday evening (7 September), Ntshavheni said that she rejects the apology by the groups as ‘meaningless’.
“Clicks misses the point that the offence is not only about the images that are insensitive but the fact that it represents the views of TRESemmé that are racists, and reflects the continued undermining of the beauty of African women and the violence they suffer when they are deemed not meeting certain superficial standards.
“Therefore to pull down the advert and issue a public apology cannot cut it. Clicks must remove the TRESemmé product from its shelves as an expression of their disassociation with suppliers who promote racist and insensitive marketing.”
Ntshavheni said that if Clicks management is serious about being ‘a proudly South African corporate citizen’ and want to make amends for its ‘error’, it must be reflected by steps to place more hair products made by South African SMMEs for African hair on its shelves.
“Diversity and inclusivity training for staff is just but a negligible drop in the ocean in the corrective action, and cannot be enough. The Department of Small Business Development remains available to assist Clicks to list more African hair products made by South African SMMEs for its shelves.”
‘Time for lip service is over’
Ntshavheni said that the time for South Africa to accept ‘lip service apologies on racism and derogatory acts is over’. She added that apologies must be backed by action to build an non-racial and equal society.
“A non-racial and equal society can only be underpinned by an inclusive economy, which requires the empowerment of black, women and youth-owned businesses.”
The minister said Clicks must commit to ‘tangible corrective action’ by actively and visibly promoting black hair products that are manufactured by black, women, and youth-owned small businesses on their shelves.
“Any claim of non-racialism that is devoid of impactful economic transformation actions cannot be acceptable.”
No to looting
In a separate statement, government called on all South Africans to resist the temptation to take the law into their own hands. This comes after significant damage was caused to Clicks stores as part of an Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) campaign to close the retailer.
Engaging in lawless behaviour is not a responsible way to resolve conflict, it said.
“We remain committed to the values of democracy. Any form of discrimination or violation of human rights for whatever reason cannot be tolerated as it undermines the progress made in building a united democratic country,” said minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu.
“Even in the face of resistance by a small minority, we continue with efforts to build a united South Africa that we can all be proud of. As we launch Heritage Month today, we are reminded of the many cultures, traditions and languages that make us who we are.
“In the spirit of social cohesion, let us all cherish and respect one another regardless of color, background, gender and religion.”
As of April 2020, group data showed that Clicks has 881 total retail stores across the country, employing 15,347 people. According to Reuters, 445 stores were closed on Monday over fears of protest, while seven were damaged in protest action led by the EFF.