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Mugabe grilled in South African chicken ad

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“We feel strongly that this is the prudent step to take in a volatile climate and believe that no TV commercial is worth risking the safety of Nando’s staff and customers,” South Africa’s Times newspaper quoted Nando’s as saying on Wednesday.

Yet, the very fact that a chicken restaurant becomes a venue for political satire is an interesting statement about freedom of expression in South Africa, and the way in which South Africans talk about politics. For a country that itself emerged from more than four decades of racist authoritarian rule, political satire has a powerful effect, and acts as a release valve for tensions that still crop up in a society where racial and class differences still have the potential to divide.

“You have a very different culture in South Africa, compared to other African countries,” says Gus Silber, a journalist and screenwriter based in Johannesburg. “In most other African countries, it’s a crime to denigrate the head of state. So South Africa is a lot more open in that way.”

Insulting the president is still a crime in Zimbabwe, a fact that may have led local Nando’s franchises to distance themselves from the South African ad campaign, with Musekiwa Kumbula, corporate affairs director for Nando’s biggest shareholder, calling the ad “insensitive and in poor taste.”

South African satire may be “a bit broader” and stereotyped than the sophisticated commentary on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Mr. Silber adds, but then again, South African politicians have a penchant for broad over-the-top statements and actions themselves.

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