South African police used rubber bullets to clear protesters on Saturday after trouble broke out at an H&M store in Boksburg.
#sapsGP Several incidents of protests at H&M stores around the province have been reported. At the East Rand Mall the protesters managed to enter the shop & stole several items. #SAPS members had to intervene and dispersed the group of protesters by firing rubber bullets. SW pic.twitter.com/4tX528zgW2
— SA Police Service (@SAPoliceService) January 13, 2018
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a radical group set up by the expelled head of the youth wing of the ruling African National Congress, organized protests at multiple outlets following controversy over an advert on the company's website depicting a black boy wearing a hoodie with the text “coolest monkey in the jungle” printed on it.
READ ALSO: Protests in Johannesburg over H&M ad
Later that day the fast fashion brand, which has branches across the country including in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, said it was temporarily closing all of its South African stores in order to ensure safety for employees and customers, and as of Monday that remained the case.
“H&M is aware of Saturday's events inside several of our South African stores. What matters most to us is the safety of our employees and customers. We have temporarily closed our stores in South Africa. None of our staff or customers have been injured. We continue to monitor the situation closely and will open the stores as soon as the situation is safe again,” a statement sent to The Local by H&M South Africa reads.
“We strongly believe that racism and bias in any shape or form, deliberate or accidental, are simply unacceptable. We stress that our wonderful store staff had nothing to do with our poorly judged product and image.”
The controversy over the advert in question started last week, when social media users accused the company of racism. That was followed by high-profile figures like Sean Combs and LeBron James criticising the ad, as well as Canadian singer The Weeknd saying he would end his partnership with them.
H&M subsequently took down the image, removed the product from sale and posted an apology on the front page of several of its international websites including those for the US and South African markets.
On Monday, South Africa's opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) said it would report H&M to business organization the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) over the advert, arguing that it violates their marketing guidelines.
“The DA will also write to H&M South Africa to express our deep concern over this tasteless advert which evokes painful sentiments among Black South Africans as well as the Black community abroad,” the party wrote in a statement, going on to say that it strongly condemned destruction of property and vandalism.
“The displays of violence at H&M stores across the country are totally unacceptable and violence is no way to fight racism but only compounds it.”