Free speech and Julius Malema are hot topics at the moment, certainly on Longwind, and they have converged nicely in the recent Nando’s ad, which until recently featured a puppet called Julius. The mildly amusing ad lampooned the call for change that is current electioneering favourite, with Julius claiming that if you buy your chicken with a hundred, you get more change than you paid in the first place.
In competition with the ridiculous mess of inanity that is TV advertising, it’s a pretty good ad. I’d like to think that it’s been conceived as a protest against the meaningless promises that pollute our airwaves at election time, and against the particular level of stupidity that currently leads the youth league. Certainly, if that’s its intention, it hits the mark pretty well.
Enter the sensitive conscience of the ANC Youth League, an organisation that benefits frequently from the minimal accountability afforded by free speech, here protecting a man made famous for threatening to kill whoever stands in the way of Zuma’s presidency (metaphorically, of course; literally speaking, he would only have eliminated them). The following is an official statement, though it is no longer available on the ANC YL site:
The African National Congress Youth League calls for the immediate withdrawal of the disgusting Nandos television and radio advertisements which uses cheap satire to undermine electoral politics in South Africa. Whatever is the lousy explanation of the Nandos advertisement, the ANC YL is fully aware that the advertisement is intended at mocking the President of the ANC YL, and in a racist fashion portrays political leaders as Cartoons.
The ANC YL has commissioned our Lawyers to investigate the legal issues that could arise around the whole advertisement, and they will soon advise us on action. While awaiting the legal advice, the ANC YL instructs the Nandos Company and those who did the advertisement to promptly withdraw the advert from all television screens and radio channels. If Nandos does not withdraw the adverts, the ANC YL will mobilise the people of South Africa to take militant action against Nandos and anything associated with Nandos.
Of course they have a point that it is racist, because white people never appear in cartoons, especially not white political leaders.
But beyond that, have they never heard of free speech? If this pillow-fight-like assault on Julius constitutes unacceptable disrespect of a political ‘leader’, then is any protest against ridiculous officials allowed?
What’s more, they are not just voicing outrage (‘disgusting’, ‘cheap’, ‘racist’), they’re threatening concrete action, that is, to incite citizens to take ‘militant action against Nandos and anything associated with Nandos’.
At least we can be moderately pleased that, should they make good on this threat and decide to invade Portugal, the ANC YL will have found a use for our expensive naval fleet.
It seems as though the Youth League has indeed heard of free speech, albeit freedom in a rather supine position:
The brief statement concluded that the league “strongly believes in freedom of expression and creativity which respects other people and organisations”. (From http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-04-24-nandos-not-chickening-out-over-julius-ad)
One has to wonder whether expression is really free when it is prohibited from ‘disrespecting’ public figures who are thoroughly deserving of criticism. One wonders whether we are really free when entire parties support leaders even when they threaten to kill their opponents, but will not allow even the friendliest of jibes to be offered in return. Freedom of speech is protected precisely because it is so dangerous when the State commands the right to decide what is sufficiently respectful, and whose opinions are allowed to be heard in public.
Kudos then to Nando’s for their clever response. Rather than bothering with court cases and debates with the poor, sensitive victims of their disgusting attack, they immediately agreed to withdraw the offending advertisement, only to replace it with an identical one that has Julius pixelled out and his voice altered, and a tickertape running to explain that identities need to be protected to avoid offence.
Not only does the ad retain its protest against the stupidity of certain ‘leaders’, but it also neatly adds a deft criticism of the restriction of freedom that the ANC YL perpetrated in demanding censorship. Good on them for the rather large ideological nose-thumbing to salute our budding young political hypocrites.