Coke-cola own the streets of SA. I’ve been pretty amazing at how ingrained its presence is in this country. From the shores of Robben Island(picture 1), to the skyscrapers of Durban(2), to hospital walls(3), to the top of the Drakensberg Mountains in the country of Lesotho(4), you can’t escape the advertising presence of the Coke corporation.
One of the things I found most visually shocking when I first arrived was the prominence of the soft drink giant’s advertising in the townships. There’s a prominent discontinuity when you enter a township to see homes in varying stages of decay and disrepair constructed from scrap metal and plaster, and yet there is a plaster wall with a freshly painted, crisp and clean Coke advertisement. In Durban especially it seems that all the Tuck shops* are gifted a collection of Coke branded paraphernalia with which to decorate and write the tuck shop name.
I’ve had this image in my head since arrival of a smartly dressed man, black suit, slicked back hair, driving through the pot hole dotted dirt roads of the townships in a black Mercedes stopping to hand out buckets of red and white paint, slipping a wad of cash to the residents. An area of destitution and poverty proudly branded with one if the largest multinational corporations in the world. It just seems so absurd.
Fortunately for Coke, these tactics are paying off. South Africa is one of those countries unlucky enough to simultaneously posses a significant burden of both malnutrition and diseases caused by overeating. I was speaking with a dietician at one of the Durban hospitals and she was explaining that things like Coke, white rice, and KFC are all associated with having money, status based consumption**. At the hospital in Cape Town there were a significant number of amputations the majority resulting from mismanaged diabetes. That’s one of the reasons I saw a 35 year old man have an above the knee leg amputation. THIRTY FIVE.
*found in the townships, equivalent to a corner store or bodega
** obviously the high fat, high sugar content of these foods doesn’t work to dissuade any tongues either…