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Sexy interracial poster sparks furor in South Africa

A portion of the poster that all of South Africa is buzzing about.

It's the poster that all of South Africa is buzzing about. In a single image, it exposes the most sensitive issues in this fragile post-apartheid society: politics, race and sex.

The poster was distributed on university campuses by the student wing of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party. It shows a young inter-racial couple – a white man and a black woman – both apparently nude, locked in a loving embrace.

The tagline: "In OUR future, you wouldn't look twice."

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Within days of its appearance on campuses this week, the image was dominating the South African media, sparking heated debate among politicians and hundreds of other commentators on websites and social media across the country.

Much of the reaction was supportive. Some was racist. Some was prudish. Some was fiercely partisan or bizarrely over-the-top. But the controversy showed that the taboos of the apartheid era have not entirely disappeared in this "rainbow nation" today, even though 18 years have passed since apartheid's collapse.

One Facebook user declared that inter-racial relationships are "an abomination." The Christian Democratic Party said the poster was "clearly promoting sexual immorality." The ruling party, the African National Congress, said the poster was created by a white-dominated party that followed the "Irish coffee" principle of "sprinkling darkies on white foam."

One of the oddest reactions came from South Africa's trade-union congress, which is closely aligned with the government. "The poster says, 'Join the DA to have an affair with a white person,'" said Zet Luzipo, a provincial secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

"It entrenches the white supremacy that we fought against during the liberation struggle," he told a South African news service. "We will not be excited with having an affair with a white person; we will not be enticed by that."

The opposite reaction came from another Facebook user, who wrote: "That something so humanly beautiful, an embrace between two people, can cause so much disharmony and conflict. … We live in such a beautiful country but we are so divided through sheer ignorance!"

While the ruling ANC has an official policy of non-racialism, promoted most memorably by former president Nelson Mandela, the country still tends to suffer from an unofficial social segregation, with most blacks still living in overcrowded townships and most whites in affluent suburbs. Inter-racial couples are still relatively unusual, although less rare than before.

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With its controversial poster this week, the DA is promoting itself as a party that fights racism and supports integration. It recently elected a young black woman, Lindiwe Mazibuko, as the first black leader of its parliamentary wing. The ANC, however, accuses the DA of being a white-dominated party where blacks are mere tokens.

The DA said it was pleased by the strong reaction to its poster campaign. "With all the comments, good and bad, we have achieved our goal of engaging South Africans in a frank debate about one of the most defining issues in our country today – tolerance," said Mbali Ntuli, the federal chairperson of the DA youth wing.

"Part of addressing the issue of intolerance is about bringing people's prejudices to the fore," he told his members in an open letter. "We need to ask them why exactly it causes them so much discomfort."

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About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More

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