6/11/2012

Flame-Grilled Chicken Politics

Flame-Grilled Chicken Politics 0

Jun10
I am writing this from Cape Town, where it took me a while to load the 53 second video of the latest Nando’s ad (above) on Youtube, so I am not sure how “it is going viral” here. (Though viral here also means 300,000 people viewed it on online.)


For those who don’t know, Nando’s is the South African fast food chicken chain taking on a “global” footprint–well as far as I know in the UK, US (in Washington D.C)., Australia, Dubai and a few African countries. As for the ad, Nando’s claims it is a comment on xenophobia.
For those who have or can’t watch it online, it opens with scenes of black undocumented migrants crossing the country’s border while a voice over says, “You know what’s wrong with South Africa? It’s all you foreigners.” It then cuts in quick succession to a series of stereotypes and references to Chinese (yes, offloading good), Indians (Oriental Plaza, I think), Kenyans (in running gear), Afrikaners (yes, farmer with dog in front seat and black workers in the back), Zulus, Tswanas, and Sothos, among others, all disappearing in puffs of smoke.
The only person who survives the puff of smoke effect is “a traditional Khoisan man” who, using expletives, says he’s not going anywhere because “you found us here.”
The public broadcaster, SABC, then announced it wouldn’t show the ad on its channels, and now satellite operator DStv as well as terrestrial channel ETV have done the same thing. This played well into Nando’s marketing strategy. Its ads thrives on political controversy. The result would be people talking about them and more sales of peri peri chicken.
This is chicken nationalism. It does not help that South Africans–remember the country where the media acts like they’re writing/reporting from Somalia and North Korea as political researcher Steven Friedman puts it so well–are now obsessed with saying everything is being banned.
So of course when the SABC–synonymous with the ANC “dictatorship” in the media and the suburbs, clumsily announced its decision (its spokesman said the SABC was concerned “that the public might interpret [the ad] differently”), the papers insinuated that it was a “political” decision and that the ad was “banned.” Nando’s CEO went on about “freedom of expression” and “censorship.” (He wasn’t saying anything about how happy he was about the whole thing blowing up.) Of course you can still watch it online. But what about the ad itself? The reporting here on the content of the ad has been very poor–to put it mildly.
I actually find the ad unfunny and problematic. It basically endorses, on the one hand, the white right-wing parliamentarian Pieter Mulder’s willful denial of South Africa’s violent history especially on land dispossession (and with aspects of the sunny politics of the Democratic Alliance) and on the other hand it bolsters the similarly ahistorical and ethnocentric claims of coloured nationalists who are all “Khoisan” now (that category in itself is a 20th century construction since the two–Khoi and San–that make up “Khoisan” are separate, distinct peoples). In the end this is about Nando’s wanting attention and it got it. Nando’s wants to sell chicken and it pretends that it has good “politics,” though we know that politics goes only so far.
I then ask around the AIAC “office” for comments. Here’s an edited version of the conversation.

By Sean JacobsAfrica is a country