Political mobs trash H&M stores in South Africa after racist hoodie row
H&M stores across South Africa began reopening today after mobs of protestors targeted six stores across the country over the weekend.
Protestors, most dressed in red t-shirts organised by the EFF political party, entered the shops and damaged displays. Some stores have discovered there was looting.
The Democratic Alliance on Sunday strongly condemned the violence and vandalism at retail shops in Gauteng by Economic Freedom Fighters supporters over a racist advert.
“While we fully agree that racism is oppressive and has no place in a democratic South Africa, inciting violence and acts of destruction to property must be equally condemned,” DA national spokesperson Refiloe Nt’sekhe said.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) confirmed several incidents during protests at H&M shops around the province.
“At the East Rand Mall the protesters managed to enter the shop and stole several items. Police had to intervene and dispersed the group of protesters by firing rubber bullets,” Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said.
Floyd Shivambu, an MP for EFF, tweeted: “That @hm nonsense of a clothing store is now facing consequences for its racism. All rational people should agree that the store should not be allowed to continue operating in South Africa. Well done to Fighters who physically confronted racism.”
Protesters say they were reacting to an advert in which a black child wore a hooded sweatshirt that bore the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle”.
It was part of a an animal-themed clothing line launched this year by the Swedish retailer, and bosses immediately withdrew the top and apologised.
It had appeared on the British H&M and caused upset around the world among social media commentators accusing the retailer of racism.
In South Africa shared video footage claiming to show demonstrators throwing racks of clothing to the ground. Images show merchandise in tangled heaps and toppled security sensors.
H&M said in a statement that it’s “aware of the recent events inside several of our South African stores,” and it has “temporarily” closed all stores in the country. According to the company’s website, H&M has 17 locations in South Africa.
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“None of our staff or customers have been injured,” H&M said. “We continue to monitor the situation closely and will open the stores as soon as the situation is safe again.”
The ‘monkey sweatshirt’ ad, which has been deleted, met backlash a week ago when it was shared on social media. Two musicians, known as The Weeknd and G-Eazy, cut business ties with H&M in response.
On Tuesday, the company said it would also “investigate why this happened to prevent this type of mistake from happening again.”
In its statement Saturday, H&M went further: “We strongly believe that racism and bias in any shape or form, deliberate or accidental, are simply unacceptable,” the statement reads. “We stress that our wonderful store staff had nothing to do with our poorly judged product and image.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters, an opposition party, retweeted footage of protesters marching and singing in H&M stores.
The group’s leader, Julius Sello Malema, also shared images of the destruction and comments accusing H&M of racism.
On Twitter Saturday morning, Malema wrote: “We will never be told by any fool on how to fight against our oppression particularly those who have never been at the picket lines. There’s no formula on how you should fight the oppressor, expect more action against all racists, individually and collectively this year.”
Social media seems divided on the EFF protest some people reflecting growing concern in South Africa that wrecking a franchisee’s store in response to an international company’s mistake that had already been widely publicised around the world, achieves little.
Lisa Magnusson, editorial writer at Swedish paper of reference Dagens Nyheter, played down the scandal, saying people should be more upset about the working conditions of the labourers in Asia who make H&M clothes for pennies.
She said that if every garment were sold for just three kronor more (0.3 euros, $0.37), those workers’ salaries could be doubled.