When racism, Islamophobia and #BringBackOurGirls collide


What happens when racism, Islamophobia, and #BringBackOurGirls collide in a single advertisement for charity? More to the point, how does that even happen? RA’EESA PATHER explains.

I tried to ask the gurus at Ogilvy and Mather Durban what exactly they were snorting when they conceptualised an ad for women’s abuse organisation, The Sahara Shelter, but they remained mum – our creative director is out of town, they said. Be that as it may, the ad is still fluttering around as a demonstration of just how backward advertising in this country is.

Initially when I looked at the ad, I saw a black woman in purdah – a religious practice in certain Muslim communities where women cover their entire bodies with the exception of their eyes. Among young South African Muslims, purdah is often translated as “ninja”. (My but those women dress stealthily.)

The slogan “Your voice is her voice #BringBackOurGirls” was mindlessly plonked in the bottom left corner of the image, while The Sahara Shelter had stamped its logo at the opposite end.

Clearly, Ogilvy and co. were getting into the Ramadan spirit by announcing Muslim women do not have a voice and somehow need to be saved from their fabric prisons. Firstly, this is not France. There is no burka ban. Secondly, Muslim women have voices. Have you not heard about so-and-so’s aunty who messed up the biryani?

But then I looked at the ad again. I squinted at it and saw that what I had mistaken for purdah was actually black hands. How visionary. Guess some people are still awaiting the swart gevaar.

The ad was donated to The Sahara Shelter by the Afrisun Casino Group. According to Afrisun’s Phumla Mutle, the group’s previous CEO sponsored the ad, and the current CEO knows nothing about it. It’s a casino, but they don’t know what they’re spending their money on. Crikey.

Last year, the World Health Organisation reported that 60,000 women and children were victims of domestic abuse each month in South Africa.

Globally this number is unmatched: when it comes to harming women and children, nobody does it better. And these are just the cases that are reported to the police. Charities like The Sahara Shelter, which provides transitional accommodation to abused women and their children, are not only necessary in South Africa, they are a priority.

But does this justify the advert’s racial slur? Aroona Chetty, director of the organisation, said that the shelter hadn’t thought of these questions and insisted that domestic abuse is perpetrated by “all races”.

In using black hands to evoke domestic violence, to show a woman being pinned down and silenced, the ad perpetuates stereotypes that racially target black men as barbaric patriarchs. Black men are not the only perpetrators of domestic abuse in South Africa, or have you not listened to enough Oscar Extra?

The use of #BringBackOurGirls is puzzling. Ultimately, we need to give as much attention to South African women as we would to those schoolgirls in Nigeria. If not, we ourselves become abusers.

It seems as though the ad piggybacks onto the plight of the Nigerian girls and their suffering to sell the torment of our women at home. But this is advertising and what are ethics anyway?

Still, #BringBackOurGirls ties into the Islamic context of the image. Did Ogilvy’s crème de la crème really not see the similarities? Black hands morphed into purdah to highlight domestic abuse; a double slap to two communities who face constant prejudice. By feeding into the bigotry – even if it is unconsciously so – the ad-makers are ironically stifling the voices of the people they seek to help. And the “you” that they speak to – presumably the white saviours of the world – becomes complicit in making the voiceless even more voiceless.

In the wake of Ogilvy’s recent Feed A Dog –  err, Child – debacle, it’s clear some of the nation’s brightest visionaries are in fact blind. It’s time they open their eyes to the reality of society instead of trying to make a quick buck off the racist rhetoric that still manipulates so many minds today.


  1. Like I said, advertising in this country, and by that I mean the heads of creative, is still predominantly white males. Also, usually privileged white males. They cant identify with the ‘great unwashed’ between vida coffees and their flats on the atlantic seaboard.

    • Good evening Faheema,

      A Muslim female was responsible for the advert, this article is completely false and what is mentioned above is in no way a representation of what was intended by the advert. In any case all press is good press. Thumbs up to Ogilvy whose subtle innuendo is understood by those with some intelligence, bringing light to a serious problem.

      Kind regards,
      Dr Z. Mohammed

      • I agree with Z Mohammed. Just as the article suggests that the ad was made in poor taste, I feel the article was written in poor taste. Many of the facts stated are not true. It is a weak attempt for The Daily Vox to gain popularity by highlighting issues such as ‘Racism’ and ‘Islamophobia’. Which is not what the ad intended.

      • @Dr. Mohammed. Are you saying that because the ad is designed by a Muslim woman, it can’t possibly be racist or in any way prejudiced?

    • In fact, the cultural bias towards western/foreign narratives is so strong, people have internalized their objectification as empowerment not prejudice! Comments before refer.

  2. No. The industry is dominated by a racist subset.Like many industries, it’s struggle to meaningfully transform is evidence of cultural prejudice deeply embedded. Or did this stop being South Africa?

  3. The writer of this article clearly misunderstood what the ad is about. The ad has nothing to do with racism or Islamophobia and anyone with a little insight and intelligence would see that.

  4. This advert is a part of a world wide campaign to bring awareness to the plight of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, hence the hashtag; BringBackOurGirls. The girls are Nigerian, so too are their captors. So by depicting a black face and black hands, the creator of this ad is simply reflecting reality.

    The world is filled with misogynists, some of whom happen to be Muslim and conveniently have the veil to impose their ideals in a way that suits them. Boko Haram is one such group of misogynists.
    The advert is not saying that all Muslim women who cover their faces are oppressed and abused. Nor is it saying that all abusers are black. It is talking to one specific issue, carried out by a specific group of people. It is saying that those responsible for the kidnapping of these girls have an agenda that needs to be stopped.

    A good ad makes you feel something, like this ad does.

    • Khurshid took the words right out of my mouth. Completely agree that the components of this advertisement were used simply to symbolise and reflect the reality of the situation.

  5. This article is completely flawed in every sense. Not only did you reinforce racial stereotypes that you claim to be so against, but the ad clearly went over your head.

    It’s people like you that are adding irrelevant arguments to pressing issues that leaving others at the hands of evil and corrupt governments. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed regardless of our situation here in South Africa.

    Seriously, grow up.

  6. And then you get the reporters who spin any information/story they can into something that it is not – of course, they choose the most controversial way possible, as their intention is not to correct/help or shed light on anything, rather just to gain ‘hits’ – and let’s face it, in today’s internet culture, people love controversial topics. Probably because it enables us to all reason with our opinions rather than with our logic. As Raeesa Pather (the writer of this article) sums it up in her final line: “It’s time they open their eyes to the reality of society instead of trying to make a quick buck off the racist rhetoric that still manipulates so many minds today.” Funny thing is that, at least to me, it sounds like Raeesa is talking about herself.

  7. ‘New kid’ raeesa has completely misunderstood the ad. It’s neither racist nor islamaphobic. It simply reflects the really of the situation.

  8. Much hate. for the new kid. Seems you guys will do anything for a friend. Like Obama. None of your comments stand up to scrutiny. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

    • I think Raeesa should be ashamed of herself (and you for that matter) – labeling every person in advertising as a coke snorter is very unprofessional. Also, it’s very easy to say ‘none of your comments stand up to scrutiny’ when you just leave it at that and don’t actually provide any. I stand firmly by my observation: Raeesa Pather (the writer of this article) is a pot calling the kettle black – her final line holds the most truth in this article, largely because she is reflecting on her own actions for a change, not just scrutinizing those of others (rookie move for journalist)… “It’s time they open their eyes to the reality of society instead of trying to make a quick buck off the racist rhetoric that still manipulates so many minds today.” < Is that not the exact reason this article exists? What a major fail. I wonder what exactly Raeesa was snorting when she wrote that.

      • You sound a little piqued. Do calm down. I’m not “reflecting on my own actions for change”, as you so thoughtfully say. I’m talking about Ogilvy’s supposed action for change. Hence the 600-word article on the advert. Also, I’m not marketing off racism, I’m exposing it. Learn the difference.

        • You seem to assume a lot of that which you think you know. An example of your gross assumptions (other than your article) is that you are now assuming I need to calm down – oh if only you could experience the swing-sway comfort of the hammock from which I am typing this. Raeesa, my dear, you are talking absolute rubbish – from ‘rookie journo’ you are now designing yourself a label that says ‘liar’. Sure, some readers (those who don’t do much thinking for themselves and just adsorb mediocre journalistic judgements) will agree that you are ‘exposing racism’ (“Give that girl a Nobel Peace Prize!”) – unfortunately though, most readers (those who do think for themselves) will understand that, in truth, you can only expose something that is, not that which isn’t (as you are doing). Let me elaborate: Racism (like many other wrongdoings) is dependent on intent. You cannot expose something ‘racist’ if its intent was not to be racist – that will only work to indicate that your own opinion of something regards it as racist (unfortunately in this case, you are pretty much a nobody, so your opinions are weak and don’t mean much – you basically still need to establish yourself as a journalist before you can rely on playing this card). So, the fact that you are arguing that this advertisement was negligently racist (yes, that means you are not really ‘exposing racism’ as you say you are) just proves that you are trying to gain popularity (for yourself and for your article) by playing off the racist rhetoric that still excites so many South African minds today – a rather cunning tactic. I believe that if you truly feel so strongly about ‘exposing racism’, there are much more interesting (and actually really racially unjust) stories you could write about. Yes, rather than attempting to fuel a weak debate around the supposed negligent racism of an advertisement – two in this case, I suppose – (for what reason/good other than your own personal gain, I have no clue), you could write a feature that spotlights intentional racism. Oh boy, can you imagine the hits you’d get on such an article? Think about it: A feature that exposes something that was intentionally racist, rather than a silly article about one girl’s opinion on an ad that may or may not be seen as negligently racist, especially when it (the ad) addresses a much more important issue than racial negligence. But this is journalism and what are ethics anyway? Lastly, a tip: Try not to ever say “learn the difference” again – that’s a very adolescent remark and it greatly handicaps your professionalism. Anyway, I hope this doesn’t pique you too much – I’d really rather you focused on writing your next article, because you know what they say right? “You’re only as good as your last.”

        • Azad, it appears you left out the indefinite article ‘a’. Unless you blundered typing the plural form of the word library.

          Secondly, I’d like to inform you that the internet is a library.

          PS: Thank you for attempting to point out my problem – so very kind. Hope I have managed to return the favour.

  9. Hey Raeesa. Judging by the way this article was written, your opinion isn’t that important. Terrible grammar and spelling. Now that’s something I can’t remain ‘mum’ about.

    • Well, well…another unjust comment proving the ad campaign to be a fail. Hmm, see what you’ve done Ogilvy!

      Good luck to you Luigi…you seem so naive. Shame!

  10. Hi all,

    I have seen this ad and as a senior designer I feel that the ad is extremely inappropriate and simply “bad”. Raeesa Pather, well done on hitting the hammer on the nail. You definitely hit a nerve with Ogilvy. This is their staff reacting to this articlle of such a blunderous ad. I can tell of the emotion in their response. I say the fact that they are responding to your article means that somewhere deep down they know that what you say is the truth and feel that they need to defend themselves.

    The very mere fact that this ad is capable to provoke such thoughts of racism indeed means it is SIMPLY A BAD ad campaign. Raeesa, the new kid on the block has said it as it is!

    Ogilvy, your intended message through this campaign is, i’m afraid, a fail. With advertising, your message should be clear and to the point without triggering such thoughts.

    Such a reaction from your staff is just so low. People grow up. Stop stooping to such low levels.

    In the design industry you should know to take critism constuctively and appreciate the messages your campaigns portray. Most importantly, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! In a country that has suffered so many years of apartheid and racism, you should known that this ad could provoke such feelings as it is a soft spot.

    Enough of this already…Instead go get some work done and improve on your ad campaigns. Afterall don’t you say “We sell, or else…”

    Thank you all! Have a wonderful day.

      • Zinta,

        Thank you very much for your interest in my work. However, be rest assured that I am very happy in my ranking and job. I do not need your approval or puny opinion w.r.t my portfolio. My portfolio speaks highly for itself and the distingiushed brands I have and am working on. Trust me, you have no idea!

        Thank you.

    • Because one reacts to something said does NOT mean that deep down you know it’s true. If that were so then every time a person uttered something deemed to be racist and the hoards reacted then you are insinuating that “deep down they agree”.

  11. You should infact contact the actual creator of this ad and get their insights on this, understand the root cause for the creation of this advert before you assume the intentions and hidden messages locked into the picture,.

    • If you actually read the article the first line says that the author tried to get in touch with the creators of the advert. They declined to comment. Why are you wasting space.

  12. *writes pissy, oversensitive article about ‘racist’ advert*
    *resorts to racially offensive stereotypes of Muslim women*

  13. Why must we say ninja and what is this about burnt biryani? I think instead of playing in the playground of words this child needs some lessons in the kitchen, maybe we can try make her good at that.

  14. I don’t think this ad is the best Ogilvy’s ever produced but you’re being a bit harsh with the political rhetoric. And I hardly think there’s any racism here to be exposed. If we are going to use people in ads, they will need to have colour – whether that is black or white. A black man a BMW ad does not imply all BMW’s are driven by black men. (Although automotive ads do often come to the party by making the driver an avatar of sorts)

    Do you think a pair of white hands would’ve been better?

    As far as purdah is concerned, well, that is the message. It hints at the religiously motivated kidnappings in Nigeria. It does not say those are the only ones or that all Muslims kidnap, it merely leverages off what is happening in Nigeria. Your article does address some issues but I don’t see how you tie it up into a conclusion.

    Are you saying it’s based on inaccurate research? Does it not address the issue it claims to address?

  15. Well done sweetheart! Agree with Shanaaz, from the responses u have certainly hit a nerve. Take these peoples feedback and learn from it. Will be watching out for your columns, InshaAllah.


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