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What a pity Nando’s chickened out on the real issues in the Gareth Cliff contretemps – racism and sexism

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Wiseman Zondi is a postgraduate student in philosophy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a 2022 Rhodes Scholar-elect.

Nando’s failed to understand the actual problem with the exchange between Gareth Cliff, John Steenhuisen and Mudzuli Rakhivhane: the idea that a white man can deem black people’s legitimate articulations of systemic racism ‘anecdotal and unimportant’. That two white men shouted down and spoke over a black woman is a prime example of sexist paternalism.

A clip recently surfaced on social media in which infamous shock jock Gareth Cliff sought to facilitate a debate between DA leader John Steenhuisen and One South Africa (OSA) national spokesperson Mudzuli Rakhivhane as part of Cliff’s podcast, The Burning Platform.

In the clip, Rakhivhane seemed to make a point about institutional racism and how it affects every aspect of the typical black South African experience. She was quickly shut down by Cliff, who claimed that the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has proven that racism is not important to most South Africans.

When Rakhivhane attempted to show the ridiculousness of this remark, she was told that her lived experiences were “anecdotal and unimportant”. All of this occurred while Steenhuisen simply smirked, apparently in agreement with Cliff.

As Burning Platform is a sponsorship between Cliff Central (Cliff’s company) and fast-food chain Nando’s, it was the latter that attracted a lot of social media ire for not taking action against Cliff. Nando’s would eventually release two tweets claiming that it is a brand that “takes the right to freedom of speech very seriously”. The brand also said it would be reviewing the content of the podcast episode in question.

The result of this review was a statement by Nando’s that began with the sentence: “Nando’s supports healthy debate and the right to free speech.” The brand named this as the main reason behind its sponsorship of Cliff’s platform for more than five years. However, it would be terminating this sponsorship, not because Cliff was expressing white supremacist attitudes, but because Cliff spoke over Rakhivhane “and dismiss[ed] her view whilst not allowing her to adequately express it”.

This is a highly disappointing statement from Nando’s, especially for a brand that has received constant national acclaim for its advertisements that use satire and parody to capture public sentiment regarding important social and political issues.

In his book It’s not inside, it’s on top: Memorable moments in South African advertising, Khanya Mtshali writes about how Nando’s has “ripped into our best and worst qualities as a people, lampooned the greed and apathy of our public officials and entertained us in times of grave uncertainty”. Mtshali even goes as far as naming Nando’s South Africa’s “satirist-in-chief”. That description makes the current stance by Nando’s all the more disappointing.

On this particular occasion, the Nando’s brand failed to understand the actual problem with the exchange between Cliff, Steenhuisen and Rakhivhane: it is the idea that a white man can deem black people’s legitimate articulations of systemic racism and their effects “anecdotal and unimportant”. To make matters worse, the fact that two white men spoke over a black woman (Steenhuisen shouted “service delivery!” a few times during the clip, implying that there is no relation between racism and the upcoming local government elections) is a prime example of sexist paternalism. Cliff shouting over Rakhivhane, as rude as it was, should be the least of the Nando’s brand’s concerns.

Gareth Cliff is not a prominent public commentator because of any intellectual value he brings to any conversation he is a part of. Gareth Cliff is a prominent public commentator because he is a “shock jock” who has been enabled by brands like Nando’s to shout over and intimidate his way through every exchange that does not confirm his pre-existing beliefs. How can such an individual be placed with the responsibility of facilitating public debate in any meaningful way?

What would have been more consistent for the Nando’s brand would be to recognise the rudeness of Cliff during the exchange not merely as a violation of Rakhivhane’s ability to speak freely, but as an affront to Rakhivhane’s existence as a black woman, and as an affront to every black South African’s experience. The Nando’s brand had an opportunity to speak plainly and directly to the public about its acknowledgement of structural power, and the ways that it often plays out in interpersonal interactions. Nando’s had an opportunity to terminate its sponsorship of Cliff’s platform while expressing its values as a brand that has never shied away from discourse of this nature. Instead, Nando’s chose to completely ignore the racist and sexist undertones of the exchange, and focus squarely on “freedom of speech”.

Nando’s has shown the ability to display far more nuance and complexity than this in its advertising campaigns. It is unfortunate that it could not do the same when it mattered the most. DM

Wiseman Zondi is a postgraduate student in philosophy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a 2022 Rhodes Scholar-elect.

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All Comments 8

  • If you can say that Rakhivhane is a victim, then you are as much a sexest as Gareth is a racist.

    That chick is not weak and she is most certainly not helpless against two white men.

    Don’t undermine her strength of character and reduce her to colour and sex.

    She is not a victim.

    Your chilvery is insulting.

    • Can’t agree more.

      Gareth Cliff simply stated facts proven by IRR research, most people don’t care. This would upset an individual snowflake, but the point of the discussion was not to discuss a single individual story. We all have those. Hence why it is correctly called anecdotal. Unimportant sounds harsh but as IRR research indicated, it literally is unimportant according to the definition of the word.

  • There are racist black people, coloured people, white people, indian people,……..any people.

    Do you honestly think that harping on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on from what is a subjective emotional viewpoint about the topic is going to change in any way the way individual people feel or improve the lives of anyone?

    If you want truly want to help then focus on what will really change things for the better:
    – Feeding our people.
    – Housing our people.
    – Educating our people.

    How can you do this?

    A good start would be to write articles that will help stop the ANC government stealing from this country and all its people.

    …the rest is simply black/white/indian/coloured/chinese noise.

    • Thanks Richard. I agree. This harping on other issues while SA burns.
      To always look for racial scapegoats reads like ideological opportunism. Mudzuli can look after herself and I’m sure it suits her agenda to see herself as the victim of suffering and not as a master of her own fate. Now we have this huge sense of entitlement to score brownie points and an excuse for ethnic cleansing, so Gareth becomes an infamous shock jock and John a smirking sexist.

  • I think Gareth Cliff does bring intellectual value to most debates in which he participates, so it is disappointing to see an ad hominem attack on his intellectual ability simply because you think he was rude and of course because he is “white”. Using race to devalue a person’s opinion and right to express it the very definition of racism. One wonders when we all just grow up.

    • Cliff is a pseud who knows how to posture and parrot the right catch-phrases. That doesn’t mean he’s bringing “intellectual value” to anything. Far from it – he obscures the real point of a debate by being aggressive and as Wiseman says, shouting over and intimidating “his way through every exchange that does not confirm his pre-existing beliefs”. That is *exactly* what he does and while it might be true that anecdotal evidence is not evidence, he could have had enough respect for the lady and/or her viewpoint to listen and let Steenhuizen answer the point, instead of taking Steenhuizen’s side. After all, he was supposed to be the *facilitator,* not antagonist or devil’s advocate.

  • At the risk of playing devil’s advocate, if you listened to the full interview Rakhivhane was holding her own, if not out-debating Steenhuisen (a veteran politician). When trying to change the subject to racism (off the topic), she was shut down when trying to play the “black woman” card.
    Surely, there is no greater compliment than to be treated as an equal?

    In fairness though, considering the type of debate it was, it should have been done more diplomatically.