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Mugabe grilled in South African chicken ad

A satirical ad by Nando's Chicken poked fun at Zimbabwe President Mugabe. His supporters were not amused.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer / December 1, 2011

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe (r.) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai attend a joint meeting of senior members of their respective parties, in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 11.

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

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Those were the days, Mr. Mugabe.

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A South African satirical television commercial, for the Nando’s Chicken restaurants, has captured the South African imagination, depicting Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s difficulty in coming up with enough dictators to come to a Christmas Party this festive season.

Called “The Last Dictator Standing,” (attached at the bottom of this article) the commercial imagines Mugabe and Muammar Qaddafi having a watergun fight; Mao Zedong and Mugabe singing karaoke; Saddam Hussein and Mugabe making snow angels, in the sand, in their boxer shorts; Mugabe and Idi Amin mimicking that front-of-the Titanic “flying” scene aboard a tank; and most improbably of all, Mugabe pushing apartheid defender P.W. Botha in a swing.

Alas, whether by NATO bombs or natural causes, all are now dead. It’s going to be a lonely Christmas.

Though quite popular – the commercial went viral on youtube – Nando’s has since withdrawn the commercial, citing physical threats to staff and customers at the Nando’s fanchises inside Zimbabwe. Apparently, youth members of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party had begun to protest outside Nando’s chain stores in Harare and elsewhere in the country.

“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.”

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