College of Humanities

The Clicks hair advert is an indicator of transformation agenda that went wrong in South Africa

The picture of black women’s hair in the recent Clicks advert brought in to sharp focus the fact that transformation is happening at a snail’s pace in South Africa. To have an advert that displays such insensitivity shows some deficiencies in how pockets of big business orientate their workers and lack of commitment to the values of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in the constitution. The advert does not only depict the Clicks company flaws of sanctioning racist marketing pictures using black and white women’s hair but, it elucidates the deep-seated problems aligned with the defiance of some institutions, organisations and companies to adhere to the transformation programme set forth by our government. The advert indicates that our country’s transformation agenda went wrong along the way. All stakeholders need to look within their organisations to question themselves about whether they are implementing transformation. The fact that AJ’s Unisex Hair Salon in Stroud, Gloucestershire early this month listed a job ad looking for a part-time qualified hairdresser who is ‘happy’ but was perceived as discriminatory because of the word ‘happy person’ indicates that in other countries issues of transformation are now taking key precedence. Likewise, the California state assembly has passed a bill prohibiting employers from discriminating against people with natural hair. In South Africa, the time has come for different laws that are against discrimination to be passed including laws about hair discrimination. Such laws and fines for people, organisations and institutions violating anti-discrimination will be a step forward in assisting with implementation of transformation. 

Efforts to transform South Africa in the past two decades have challenged individual institutions, organisations, and companies to rise to the occasion.  While numerous policies have been adopted, more platforms need to be created to attract previously excluded groups, particularly black women, from a range of social contexts to actively act and be portrayed positively on all platforms. The discussion foregrounds the roles of context, government, organisations, institutions and companies as a fluid space that could be used to reshape and reconstruct transformation. Current developments in South African transformation are connected to two broad themes: transformation by the people and with the people.  In other words, people should not be seen as objects but as agents of transformation. In my view, it is impossible to promote transformation in South Africa without meaningfully involving the voices of the people in institutions, organisations and companies. Research on the current status of transformation in our country shows that transformation is slow and that social, political and economic discrimination and inequalities of a class, race, gender, institutional and spatial nature profoundly shaped, and continue to shape South Africa. The Constitution committed South Africa to the affirmation of the values of human dignity, the achievement of equality, and the advancement of non-sexism and non-racialism and the human rights and freedoms that the Bill of Rights proclaims of respect and dignity.

This infers that employees have to be treated with dignity and supported in their duties. Consent must be sought from models and other workers about how their images will be used. It is not acceptable for employees not to have rights about how their information is used. I believe that is why we see many adverts appearing in the media because models are not given the opportunity to dictate how their pictures will be used. Likewise, companies need to appoint transformation champions who will be gatekeepers and safeguard transformation. Training is essential in organisations, institutions and companies to educate employees about issues of diversity. In the past the state used to pay for training of staff, among modules that should be taught as core courses – those focusing on transformation, diversity and ethical issues. Training of this nature will help a lot in dealing with the implementation of a transformation plan for each company.

It is time for Government to put in place measures that would encourage transformation in companies, institutions and organisations. Since the advent of democracy in South Africa there are companies that have either paid lip-service or ignored transformation. If transformation was key for our government such adverts will not keep re-appearing the way they are after so many years of democracy. The policy is good but it lacks enforcement. There are companies that are dominated by white males, especially at senior managerial positions. Ministers that work with such institutions or organisations have not done enough to ensure that transformation happens. For example, Minister dealing with businesses could have instituted training on issues of transformation and marketing because such discriminatory adverts have been recurring in the media. Another illustration is Minister of Education many former Model C schools are still dominated by white teachers and there is resistance to employ black teachers by the governing bodies. Likewise, some Higher Education Institutions are not willing to transform, their institutions are predominately white and they use Afrikaans to exclude the employment of blacks. Other Higher Education Institutions fail to employ blacks in the senior positions especially women. The Ministers of Education are supposed to be on top of the implementation of transformation policies in the education fraternity. By now, we are supposed to have the Transformation Task Teams in every ministry if we are serious about change in South Africa. We know that racism has been a thorn and to remove that we need serious measures so we correct this social ill.

The Clicks advert opens up a debate on transformation and reintroducing the question of implementation of the transformation agenda of redressing the past injustices of our constitution. Research has consistently shown that the absence of significant structural transformative measures continue to obstruct a lot of transformation programmes in South Africa. We need all Ministries to start taking transformation seriously and the first step is having a committee that deals with issues of transformation. Maybe there can be a ministry in the presidency that focuses on transformation by actively removing any institutional, social, material and intellectual barriers leading to the creation of a more equal, inclusive and socially just South Africa.

Dr Maserole Christina Kgari-Masondo Senior Lecturer Economic History and Academic Leader: Culture Cluster, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)

Dr Maserole Christina Kgari-Masondo

Senior Lecturer Economic History and Academic Leader: Culture Cluster