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Grilled: Nando’s taking wings out of Gareth Cliff’s flame roast succumbs to the will of the mob and serves no one

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Kabelo Kgobisa-Ngcaba is a communications consultant based in Cape Town. She previously completed her articles at Lawyers for Human Rights and worked as a researcher in Parliament.

Terminating its sponsorship of The Burning Platform was an unworthy act of corporate cowardice from a normally bold brand, Nando’s. A controversy of this nature was always going to happen with Cliff. Nando’s should have been better prepared.

On Thursday, 21 October 2021, Gareth Cliff hosted a conversation with the leader of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen, and One South Africa Movement’s national spokesperson, Mudzuli Rakhivhane, on The Burning Platform, a Cliff Central show sponsored by Nando’s.

The name of the show encapsulates what listeners have come to expect from Cliff — heated conversations. That Nando’s was brave enough to sponsor a Cliff show was always surprising since the perils of such a partnership were foreseeable. It was a credit to the brand, and evidence of a commitment to free speech, that they would sponsor a platform that was bound to lead to controversy.

But last week Nando’s terminated this five-year collaboration for the worst possible reason — it succumbed to the will of a mob.

In the episode on Thursday, Cliff spoke with Steenhuisen and Rakhivhane about what their organisations could offer voters in the upcoming local government election. When Rakhivhane raised the DA’s Phoenix posters, the discussion turned to the link between race issues and service delivery. Cliff responded by citing the Institute of Race Relations’ research showing that racism is at the bottom of the priority list for most South Africans.

This is where the now viral clip of the interview comes from, with Cliff telling Rakhivhane that nobody is interested in her daily experiences of racism, and that these are “unimportant and irrelevant”.

If the backlash against Cliff was centred on his disrespectful, dismissive tone, it would be justified. But instead, the focus was on the racial dynamics between Cliff, Steenhuisen and Rakhivhane. The controversy revolved around the white men and the black woman, not the interviewer and interviewees. Yet if the Tweeters had been focused on the people rather than the archetypes of victim and oppressor, they would have realised two obvious points.

First, it was not Steenhuisen’s job to defend Rakhivhane. She made a point to which Cliff responded the way one would expect him to respond — not because he’s a white man, but because he’s Gareth Cliff. And most people, if they are honest, would enjoy seeing their rival get roasted. I imagine Rakhivhane did not mind too much when Steenhuisen got a grilling of his own later on. The outrage at Steenhuisen’s smirk, then, was rather overblown.

Second, Cliff is abrasive. His tone with Rakhivhane was par for the course on that show. Talking over guests is a particularly annoying habit of his. It’s rude and not conducive to dialogue, but it was not exclusively reserved for Rakhivhane. Cliff is entitled to his contempt for identity politics. It was on Rakhivhane to defend herself and, the thing is, she did.

In the last six minutes of the conversation, she called Cliff out for allowing Steenhuisen to refer to his personal experiences while dismissing her own. Cliff was forced to concede the point. On a roll, she went on to administer some zingers: “If everyone was satisfied with what the DA was offering, then they would have the votes to back that up.” She clearly took the “burn” in “Burning Platform” seriously, because the lady came prepared.

There was simply no need to fall back on tired, race-based defences of Rakhivhane since she had the situation firmly under control. I suspect the Tweeters did not know this because few listened to the full interview — sadly, quick reactions are more valuable than well-informed ones these days.

The show aired on Thursday. Nando’s announced its capitulation on Saturday, terminating its sponsorship of the show.

Admittedly, there are rarely good responses to these situations. Not too long ago, a video of a white man in an altercation with a black woman at a Spur branch went viral. In response to the outrage, Spur banned the man. But while those who had agitated for action simply moved on, the banning sparked a boycott by customers who thought the ban unfair. It turns out that acting impulsively to appease a mob rarely gets you any credit and, in this case, it proved costly too.

Nando’s is a popular brand and probably won’t face the same backlash as Spur. Nevertheless, terminating its sponsorship of The Burning Platform was an unworthy act of corporate cowardice from a normally bold brand. 

A controversy of this nature was always going to happen with Cliff. Nando’s should have been better prepared with a reactive statement about why they sponsor the show and the importance of creating such platforms even if they occasionally include views and conduct that Nando’s does not approve of.

Exacerbating this communications failure was the fact that the company tried to pay lip service to the right to freedom of speech even as it ditched one of the few platforms where people can voice unpopular views. One does not need to like Cliff to recognise that his platform adds a unique flavour to our national discourse. If Nando’s really was committed to free speech, it would not have ended this sponsorship on the thinnest of pretexts disguised as concern for Rakhivhane’s treatment.

No one is served by Nando’s retreat. Rakhivhane did not need Nando’s — or Twitter — to defend her from Cliff and Steenhuisen; to suggest that she did is patronising and sexist. In fact, she held her own in sharp and classy fashion. But now, new politicians like her have one less platform through which to reach voters, and listeners will be deprived of the fiery debates The Burning Platform served up weekly (if the show does not continue under some other guise).

And though the mob Nando’s sought to appease has quickly moved on, its brand will not soon shake off this shameful chickening out. DM

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All Comments 36

  • “Rakhivhane did not need Nando’s — or Twitter — to defend her from Cliff and Steenhuisen; to suggest that she did is patronising and sexist. In fact, she held her own in sharp and classy fashion.” You beautifully captured the essence of the matter.

  • I took the time to watch the whole show and you have provided an excellent summary. Well done. Cancelling the show is not a good outcome. With the degree of polarisation in our society more debate and discussion is required not less. It will not always be polite and respectful. Cancellation is not the answer.

    • Terminating sponsorship is not the same as cancelling a show. A libertarian like Cliff should appreciate the free market nature of his position and find other support. Or fold if he can’t. Nandos sells chicken, not public discourse.

  • Bring abrasive and asking tough questions is not the same as being rude and abusive! A comment like nobody cares about your daily experience of racism means he also doesn’t care about women’s daily experience of harassment and violence. So glad he’s gone. Good for Nando’s. He is an anti- vaxxer? Not really surprised.

    • Racism is the curse of our country and it seems we can’t even talk about it without losing our cool.

      I don’t believe for a moment that Gareth Cliff is a racist: the point he was trying to make is that surveys show that racism is not a key issue of the electorate, the personal experience of his guest notwithstanding.

      It’s a pity though, that more empathy was not shown by the two men present. As she said, if the DA was connecting with people on the ground, they would get more votes.

      Nando’s pulling out however, does not serve this country well.

      • Just because you list ‘fire’ above ‘knives’ on your list of concerns if you’re on fire and being stabbed does not mean you don’t mind being stabbed – this IRR survey and the wording of its findings is Orwellian in the extreme. Perhaps they should have included more people? Perhaps they did and excluded them from the sample? You’d have to ask them..

        • Perhaps you should do your own survey Brendan? What happens if you get the same response? I can guarantee that unemployment is a much bigger issue in SA than racism is.

      • I definitely believe that Gareth Cliff – and most white South Africans of a particular generation given the time in which we were raised – are racist, whether consciously or unconsciously.

        • I am so bored of this topic.
          Every human being discriminates.
          If you’re Christian or Muslim, you might not like people from another faith.
          If you’re upper class or lower class, you might not like the other classes.
          If you’re French, you might not like the English.
          If you’re young, you may discriminate against older people.
          If you have exceptional taste or skill in any field, you may find those without taste or skill too appalling to tolerate.
          And if you’re black or white or Indian or Coloured, you may discriminate against other races.
          But to focus on one aspect of discrimination: race, is just too convenient. Convenient because it denigrates any alternative opinion that doesn’t fit the PC world that the politicians and the media like to craft to suit their narratives.
          De Kock and Gareth Cliff are just the latest casualties in a long war on free speech.
          Made all the more irritating when people like Malema can openly make inflammatory and racist statements. Can you imagine the outcry if a white person said we’re going to cut the throat of blackness?
          The hypocrisy makes me sick to the core.
          We need to focus on ending corruption and re-building our beautiful country.
          Accusations of racism are just a great diversion from the real issues facing South Africa. May this election today show us that voters are sick and tired of endless and meaningless promises from politicians who rob the country daily.
          In my opinion.

  • We are all served by Nando’s retreat who thankfully distanced itself from the toxicity created by Cliff and Steenhuisen seen nodding his head in agreement. South Africa does not need the IRR/DA brand of washing its hands of race-related inequality. Sheer cowardice!

  • Appeasement in any firm generates nothing other than a licence to pilfer. Nandos will, in future, lose the right to choose what they support and South Africa will be the loser! Bang goes another hero of free disecussiib

  • Cliff imagines that his abrasive and rude stance is good journalism. It is not. he has most of the time been a wishy washy attempt at toughness which fails most of the time. Nandos, known for its tongue in cheek advertising – good advertising does not need the likes of Cliff riding roughshod over guests when they are trying to answer his question. so Nandos is not tolerating rudeness and did not chicken out they stood by values- well done Nandos.

    • Irrelevant Rory. Cliff has created a brand. You don’t have to like him. You don’t have to listen to him. But by censoring him, you do free speech a major disservice. We need all views in society, not just the inane middle of the road mush served up on commercial stations daily.

  • “Catering to the mob?” Cliff’s show itself is just that – As for “heated conversation” it’s not: butting in not allowing someone to make a point is not exactly a discussion, it’s just abusive and pointless. As for “adding unique flavour to our national discourse”, well, yes, individual and controversial opinions are all part who we are, but we don’t have to elevate unpleasant and opinionated attitudes to a national broadcast level in the name of entertainment.

  • I must admit, wouldn’t have expected DM to publish this. Thank you for some common sense. Being offensive and rude is not the same as being racist and misogynistic.

  • Just another facet in this country along with load shedding, mad drivers,potholes,dysfunctional municipalities, collapsing/stolen infrastructure, no Post, BEE , Sleeping Police, SAA , (you get the picture)……….the beat goes on lah de da de dah.

  • What a brilliant article/summary analysis and well opined. Adding to all the other positive comments, Nando’s stuffed up and also missed a HUGE opportunity to use this as a catalyst to re-start the tough discussions/dialogue about race and racism!!
    They still have an opportunity to retrack and arrange – go on, get fired up and engage with a wide range of credible people who can discuss racism with all the emotion it deserves, and do for all South Africa what the TRC did not (was not mandated to do, maybe)

  • You are correct that the perils of such a partnership were foreseeable. However, the mistake was to sponsor Gareth Cliff in the first place.

    And you are right that it was not Steenhuisen’s job to defend Rakhivhane. But he could have, which, for a leader of a political party, would have been a much better look than his vacant grin.

  • People throwing out the anti-vaxer card in these comments, which is firstly irrelevant to the topic at hand and secondly a display of utter intellectual desertification . You do yourselves a great disservice.

  • Surprised by DM to post this! Really agreed with this summary. Does a massive disserve to both Rakhivhane and Nandos. To be honest, I think Rakhivhane’s plan to de-platform or harm Cliff’s reach backfired. If anything he’s probably gaining subscribers who watched the whole the episode and got the whole context. Hopefully, the show will be able to wrangle another sponsor or survive by other means. Say what you want but Cliff does give a massive profile boosts to his guests of which they and Rakhivhane and OneSA benefit from, why destroy that for faux outrage?

  • I would love to see a debate between Kabelo Kgobisa-Ngcaba (the author) and Gareth Cliff. I’d pay money to witness it. I didn’t agree with Gareth’s tone and some of the points discussed by all parties were contentious but it was a good debate. This article is the most balanced commentary I’ve seen on the Nando’s action, defending the platform, not the argument. Bravo!

  • Pathetic Nandos. Cancel culture is winning and that is far more scary than the brain dead Twitter mob.
    Organisations like Nandos and CSA need to toughen up and stop reacting to please everyone when that leads to pleasing a few who forget about it in time for the next ‘scandal’ to cross their social media feed.

  • Agree with all this. The decision by Nando’s to withdraw their sponsorship does not help. We need to hear this dialogue. Honest and challenging.