It’s a familiar sight at airports, tourists attractions and stage plays: the happy dancing native clad in traditional regalia, moving rhythmically to the beat of enchanting African drums. Sticks pointed to the air, the warriors will perform a mesmerising dance routine, fall backwards and land on the ground with their spinal cords, jump to their feet again and re-enact a Zulu wartime chant with precision.
Oh welcome to Mother Africa, the land of plenty and dance!
We all know that this happy native mumbo-jumbo is neither anybody’s heritage nor a way of life. It’s all done to satisfy the tourist gaze. I am sure the minister of tourism will interject at this point and regale us with tales of this being a pivotal part of tourism marketing. We are told for every eight arrivals, one “sustainable job opportunity” is created. Well, Honourable Thoko Xasa, I am not belligerent enough to argue with that, so let them dance.
Where we need a bosberaad as we head into the silly season is the insolent conduct of the South African advertising fraternity. For some unexplained reasons, they are hellbent on depicting Black South Africans as a bunch of dancers – pantsula dance for fast-food, scamathamiya for building materials, sombre songs for funeral policies, kwaito moves for cable television and just about every brand they want to sell to this burgeoning target market.
We were previously told that the average advertising executive, the link between the client and the target market, is a suburban, 25-year-old white South African woman whose competency in black languages is the pedestrian “sawubona Maggie, ngicela ungiwashele ama-windows“. Good for Miss Ad Executive, I have very low expectations of her output. What is unacceptable are the brand owners signing off on such condescending campaigns.
As an African whose dance moves and harmonious voice is on par with Idols Wooden Mic contestants, let me state what I am likely to dance for. I am aware I may not be your target market as I am hovering around LSM3. And there are many of us. I don’t know anyone who speaks my languages and looks like me who dances for food, airtime, technological products, ‘save by spending’ discounts or alcohol. It may have to do with living under a rock.
When my favourite team, nestled somewhere between a prison and the mountains in the south of the city, bangs more than one and half goals during the Derby, I do dance. When Nsfas ‘mistakenly’ bequeaths a student with extra zeros in their monthly allowance after under-spending, I stop having two left feet. When Sanral abandons its irrational scheme to extort money from Gauteng drivers, I show off my vosho moves for more than an hour.
Here’s how you can make my heart sing with joy the next time you want to entice me to purchase your products without getting anxiety attacks on affordability: show someone who looks like me using the product you want me to buy. If you are advertising shoes for dancers, by all accounts give me that imagery. The difficulty for me now is walking into a bank branch wondering if the cashier will expect me to dance after handing me the deposit slip.
Gosebo Mathope is a Senior Political Journalist for The Citizen Online. You can follow the author @Gosebo_Mathope or email firstname.lastname@example.org