‘Race jokes’ in South Africa

South African advertising is known for its eagerness for political commentary; very little ends up being off-limits. Blink Stefanus, or BS Beer (the double meaning for ‘bullshit’ being an obvious choice) is no exception. In September this year the brand won a Pendoring, a local South African advertising award for TV and print campaigns in the Afrikaans language. The price rewarded the campaign for being crafty and different. The beer is not yet widely available, but seems to have some traction in white Afrikaans hipster circles. A few weeks after winning the award, Blink Stefanus released the above video ad.

The premise of the advert is obvious: it’s about race and sex (duh). It begins with a white woman, in her late thirties, looking into the camera. She has a baby in her arms, which is all covered in blankets (this doesn’t give the clue of the joke away at all). She speaks to us in an exaggerated Afrikaans accent:

My name is Mrs. Potgieter. I live here in Sandton. My husband Pieter is a pilot and he is not home very often. But now since I have had the baby I don’t feel so alone anymore. We didn’t think we were able to have children; my husband has had some problems in the past. But now, I think, you know, the Lord works in mysterious ways and now I’ve got a new baby. We named him after Pieter’s father Jasper Gerhardus. Pieter was a bit concerned, but I kept reassuring him maybe it takes a while to develop into their features so after a few months, you know, you could tell if he looks like the mommy or the daddy, but I think when he grows up and into his looks he’ll look like his father. [At this point, the camera zooms in on warthogs on the move.] Yes, I think he’s such a handsome boy. Look at the camera Jasper!

The punchline: the baby is black. And not too many kids named Jasper Gerhardus Potgieter in South Africa are black. You get the point.

Looks like the BS team wanted to be “different,” mixing it up with references to cuckolding/fears of white men’s impotency, and tired, old stereotypes about black virility. The advert speaks to the sexual fantasies that South Africans have about the “forbidden other,” and the continued attempts at denying those desires — even when presented with obvious evidence. But it also plays out apartheid-era propaganda about hypersexual black men, running about raping and impregnating helpless, hapless white women.

Welcome to the new South Africa, where a repackaging of dated colonial fears regarding race, sex, and reproduction can be used to sell beer–and win an award for being “different.”

We asked the man behind the BS beer himself to tell us why this was a winning strategy for selling beer.

To Stefanus, the video should to be viewed in the light of “its marketing philosophy ‘Drink BS, Talk BS.'” As a result, the video should be judged based on its intended meaning: as something “lighthearted and silly.” The crux of the joke and the BS is the secret affair that the woman has clearly had. For him, to suggest a connection between this video and the colonial habit of hypersexualizing the ‘black peril’ is not only oversensitive, it is outright silly (in the non-funny way).

For Stefanus, and many like him, there is no reason to politicize or ascribe additional layers of complication and race politics to a silly video-joke, which is built on a philosophy of tipsy talk and makes fun of something many drinkers identify with: bullshitting about erotic escapades. The joke (in that case) is about sex. Race’s only function in this amusing exercise is to make the sex bullshit visible. (Besides his apparent hyper-fertility, the advert does not attach any characteristics to the boy’s black father.)

But I’m going to have to call BS on this one. Do white guys in South Africa still need to use blackness to crack a sex joke for commercial gain? If all this is just a ‘nonpolitical, silly joke,’ why does so much still depend on race? To say it’s nothing but ‘Drink BS, Talk BS’ ignores those long years of drumming up fears over miscegenation. What is particularly interesting is that the child in the video does not look like it has a black father and a white mother — he is simply a black kid. The advert does not simply echo fears of miscegenation, but emphasizes the eventual erasure of white power: while daddy’s away, he’ll not only be replaced in bed (anyway, he already had problems), but replaced by the next generation — a generation he had nothing to do with begetting.

16 thoughts on “‘Race jokes’ in South Africa

  1. Good article,

    I’m often surprised about the audacity of (some) white South Africans, when it comes to acting in a racist manner. That’s my impression from watching the white South African onliny community on platforms like Youtube.

    While I know a lot of black South Africans personally, I don’t have to do much with white South Africans (I’m living in Europe – here there is a small black South African community of exiles from the apartheid days), so I can’t judge whether this is a common tendency among white South Africans or whether I only happen to meet the most extreme and bigot elements of this community online.

  2. You have to wonder about the audience these ad execs talk to, the perceived sense of humour the particular audience supposedly would laugh at. I find this ad offensive and non- hilaaarious on so many levels.
    I think its actually a self – promotional video for the ad agency themselves and not a real beer.
    That would perhaps explain the ad as the agency trying to explain themselves to potential clients as people
    Wif a sense of humour and who “gets” Afrikaans jokes.
    Marketeers and Politicians. Motherfuckers and Polarisers.
    Be gone.

    • Dolly, if anyone ‘plagiarised’ it would be the Wash Post writer – the concept, key turns of phrase that Maria came up with, and entire paragraphs (which, props to this writer, he did attribute). HOWEVER: considering the extent to which he uses the ideas in our post, only cares to refer to it in the 5th paragraph, while his 4th sentence reads “Before you read my[!] explanation..”, crediting Maria/AIAC so insufficiently, and that far down the line is hardly fair.
      It probably also explains why people will accuse Maria of plagiarism! Anyway, it happens often – other writers for ‘the legitimate press’ will pick up from our posts, and (with no attribution whatever), use entire conceptual frameworks and key sentences.
      I think AIAC should do an end of year “Top Ten ‘Homages’ to AIAC” post, hahahha!

  3. Urgh here we go. The ad is terrible and the ‘joke’ has been made numerous times in the old SA as you so rightly point out. But your article is equally poor and exaggerated.

    Where on earth do you get “tired, old stereotypes about black virility” or “propaganda about hypersexual black men, running about raping and impregnating helpless, hapless white women”? So because a black man impregnates a woman he is seen to be hypersexual? Those themes are non-existant in this ad.

    Here’s another one for you. This one is from Vodacom, part of the global Vodafone and done by a reputable national ad agency. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bCaxcio6H8
    Not nearly as racist but similar old stereotype themes are present.

    Let it be, it’s a kak ad and it doesn’t deserve the amount of airtime it’s already received. Your little racist rant has succeeded in getting a no-name brand product publicity in the Washington Post while everyone else in SA get on with their lives. Fucking retarded intellectuals.

  4. @ Sd3000 . Thanks for exchanging your thoughts and questions on the post. Since our positions ( and tone and rhetoric) appear a bit too far removed from each other, I will not respond to all of your thoughts in detail. I am happy to send you some references on this particular type of apartheid propaganda and colonial discourse, though. If you’re interested in this, (as it would partly answer your question where on earth I get that idea from), please drop me an email, including your name. Thanks

  5. @Maria maybe I wasn’t clear enough in my comment. I am not saying that the stereotype of black virility or propaganda does not exist. I said it was non-existent in the ad you were commenting on. You were jumping to conclusions and clutching at straws in your article to make your argument stronger.

    You have a responsibility as a writer too.

  6. @sd3000. Our different readings of the video aren’t gonna allow for agreement on either the ad itself or writers’ responsibilities, but thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    @Neelika.. I think the world is ready for that Top 10 Homages post. Can’t wait to read it

  7. I think this ad should be banned for its adolescent humour, even before we get into colonial discourses of race and gender. My take on the ‘social commentary’ genre of ads in SA is that young ‘creatives’ have not had nearly enough education in history and politics. For this I blame tertiary education.

    I have one problem with your article, though, Maria: What does a person who has a black father and a white mother look like? Aren’t you reading an equivalence between phenotype and genotype?

  8. If a white ad company had made an ad implying that black men were sexually unappealing or were impotent, you’d complain that it was “racist.”

    If a white ad company had made an ad (as in this case) implying that black men were sexually active and fertile, you’d complain that it was “racist.”

    If a white ad company had made an ad utterly ignoring the existence of black people in South Africa, you’d complain that it was “racist.”

    If a white [person or entity] mentioned race [in any imaginable way], you’d complain that it was “racist.”

    Because that’s how the rules work these days. We see it all the time in America — doesn’t matter what a white person says about race: if he makes the mistake of mentioning race in any manner whatsoever, it is inevitably construed as racist. And the most racist thing a white person can do is not acknowledge race at all.

    This is called to “No Win Game” and was specifically designed as a type of group psychological torture for all whites, for the crime of resembling people in the past now deemed villainous.

    Don’t imagine for a moment that many people fall for this game any more. They know it exists to punish them, and that there is no way to win. The end result is NOT that white people feel guilty and self-flagellatory (as the game is designed to make them feel), but rather that they feel resentful and repulsed by this new race-obsessed guilt-mongering order, and so disengage entirely and retreat into an all-white culture that is entirely self-contained and does not rely on an oppressed “other” for self-esteem building, but rather is internally constructive and happily isolationist. It’s a new apartheid system, but the people being kept “apart” from society are the white people themselves.

    And when the white subculture disengages and leaves the Africans to their own devices…well, one only need look at modern South African and Zimbabwean society, economy and crime rates to grasp that the stratification will continue apace and even accelerate, now and into the future.

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