reverse colonialism ad banned in south africa

December 19, 2018
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South African restaurant Chicken Licken has a reputation for epic advertisements and their latest commercial is no different. Their latest offering follows an African prince called Big Mjohnana who leaves his village in 1650 to find adventure out in the world. Big John ends up in Holland where he stumbles across white people and names this new land “Europe” in a humor-filled riff on colonialism.

I am but one humble South African, fully aware that I cannot speak for an entire country but I have to say this advertisement is hilarious. The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB), on the other hand, couldn’t find the humor and had the ad removed. This may come from a place of complete bias (because, my goodness, that chicken?!?) but judging by the reactions from South Africans of all walks of life, the general consensus is, what is the big deal?

According to Times Lives, the ARB justified its ruling by mentioning that colonization was “traumatic,” “cannot be trivialized in any manner” and is “not open for humorous exploitation.” All these things are true, more so when you consider the ARB’s statement.

“While the commercial seeks to turn the colonization story on its head with Big John traveling to Europe, it is well-known that many Africans were in fact forced to travel to Europe in the course of the colonization of Africa.” This is a fair and factual assessment but I worry that this action robs (South) Africans of an opportunity to explore our history through more than the lens of oppression.

The ad didn’t seek to make light of colonization or the trauma it inflicted (and still inflicts). If anything, it depicts an unrepresented version of the African, one with agency and adventure compared to the unwilling victims of a colossal system of exploitation. It’s also tea-worthy commentary on the absurdity found in the notion that a person can discover a land with people already living there, which I consider a hearty fuck you to Christopher Columbus.

Another powerful ad depicting a South Africa where the racial roles are reversed was banned after much outcry and that time, it was clear as to why. The ad displays white people living in townships, catching public transport into the suburbs where Black families drive Range Rovers with white nannies running after Black kids. It was a brilliantly jarring piece of art that threw the racial status in South Africa on its head and it had racist white people 6-feet-deep in their feelings.

I wonder what it is about the reversal of roles that has people so pressed. It sets a troublesome precedent for how the history of a certain group gets to be explored and re-interpreted. Anyone who lives with the repercussions of colonization knows its severity and humor does not negate that legacy. Hell, we all needed this laugh and the image of an adventurous Black man walking through the world unencumbered by the creation of the “race” is always revolutionary. Maybe that’s the issue?