It can only be a matter of time before the EFF’s press releases start having headings like "CIC and President Julius Malema’s Response to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address: What Happened Next Will Shock You!" Or, "You Won’t Believe the EFF’s Submission to the Davis Tax Committee!" Or, my favourite: "CIC Julius Malema’s Statement of Apology to President Ramaphosa and his Family. What Happened Next Will Drive you to Tears!"

The EFF has become the clickbait party, eschewing rational political interventions for the easier path to engagement, the ridiculous headline designed to get you to click for more. And this week the party has chosen to express its love of clickbait by turning to Clicks-baiting.

Most of us will have followed Clicks’s racist marketing mess-up as, thankfully, the times have passed when businesses can accidentally reveal the racism that is still at the core of a lot of the advertising industry and get away with a muttered apology. And, as I’m not that familiar with the ad industry, except in the role of audience, I’ll leave it to the experts to tell us just how rotten that core is, and how widespread the problem.

Somebody needs to do a data project on the racial demographics of ads themselves, with a handy data interactive that allows you to drill down by product area. Is motor vehicle advertising more racist than furniture advertising? Is financial services advertising more racist than insurance advertising? It would be instructive, no matter what it shows.

As journalist and editor Ferial Haffajee has commented: "Nikon, Clicks, H&M have all taken racist (let’s be frank — not sugar-coat in language of diversity and inclusion) campaigns all the way to market and then retracted and apologised after public outcries. Big Marketing’s got a Big Problem. No use firing the minions."

But to remind you of the details: Clicks published an advert described by group CEO Vikesh Ramsunder as "insensitive and offensive", and by everyone else as racist, showing the hair of four women — two black, two white. The advert described the black women’s hair as "dry, damaged, frizzy and dull", and the white women’s hair as "fine, flat" and "normal".

The racism of this was pointed out in stark terms by a broad sector of South Africans, on many platforms.

Ramsunder issued an apology, some of which I’ll quote in full.

"I apologise unreservedly for the hurt and anger these images have caused.

We could count on the EFF to ramp things up without any apparent motivation except to build the party’s brand in as shrieky a way as possible

"The emotive responses of our customers have been mirrored by our employees and management teams. And, while the images and content were provided to us by our supplier, Tresemmé, this does not absolve us from blame. This is why we took accountability for this error of judgment by issuing a public apology and swiftly removing the offensive material from our website …

"Already, the negligent employees have been suspended, and we have engaged the supplier, who has now also issued an apology. This incident has highlighted the need to audit all of our third-party (and our own) promotional material for any implicit or explicit bias, as well as the need for diversity and inclusivity training for all of our head office employees. This will be urgently implemented."

As always, it smacked of too little, too late, and revealed the deep racial fault lines that, to put it mildly, still bedevil our country.

And, as always, we could count on the EFF, which is to political parties what crazy, maskless Walmart trash are to Americans, to ramp things up without any apparent motivation except to build the brand of the EFF in as shrieky a way as possible.

Basically, Clicks has become clickbait.

The EFF issued lists of impossible demands, and called on its "fighters" to close down Clicks on a Monday of revolutionary action. Malema’s actual words were: "Clicks, see you tomorrow. Fellow fighters and ground forces; ATTACK!!!"

The most frightening bit of that tweet is the implication that the EFF might have air and maritime forces.

One can sense the party’s desperation at being deprived of the national stage of parliament in the response it gave to a Clicks lawyers’ letter: "Dear Mr [sic] Anele Ngidi. You racist lawyers of Pravin Jamnandas Gordhan, and your racist client Clicks, can go to the nearest hell. Black dignity or death, we shall overcome."

A store was petrol-bombed; another was attacked by fighters wielding hammers, and set alight.

EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu personally supervised the protest at the Sandton Clicks, because that’s what it means to be a fighter — you put yourself in the front line, and if you can do a little light shopping afterwards, well, that’s called logistics buddy.

He also, according to News24, described Clicks workers as "unfortunate collateral" in the party’s protests.

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, affectionately known as "The People’s Bane", used that gift for simplicity that characterises all the best political messages, and simply tweeted: "ATTACK." It’s a philosophy he clearly personally embraces.

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Former public protector Thuli Madonsela tweeted: "In my view, the #Clicks case #BlackHairMatter is a textbook case of unconscious bias. Calling it out is great but anarchy and violence undermine the cause."

To which Ndlozi replied: "Find the nearest hell Thuli ... when you get there, you know the cerebral thing to do. We need no approval from your coconut logic."

The Beloved Commander in Chief and veteran of the great VBS campaign of 2019, Julius S Malema, told EFF members: "If they want war give it to them including any landlord of any mall who refuses you entrance. No-one must disrespect black people after 2013 without any consequences, if it means death so be it. We are ready for the ultimate sacrifice in defence of black people." War, fighters, death … malls are the new killing fields, apparently.

Even the EFF’s intelligence wing swung into action, and managed to uncover "the racist Clicks plan to defend itself against justice", and shared it with the world. It included such sneaky manoeuvres as: "All store managers to be on duty next week"; "All stores must be briefed to be on high alert"; and "All managers to work with each mall, centre, landlord to ensure they have been informed and [are] planning for disruption."

It hardly seemed worthy of the fanfare of the EFF’s triumphant unveiling of the "master" plan.

What it means:

Julius Malema has gone so far as to talk about war and death in exhorting his ‘fighters’ to act

Clickbait is another of the gifts that the digital world has foisted upon us. It’s false advertising that uses sensationalist language, "with a defining characteristic of being deceptive, typically sensationalised or misleading. Clickbait headlines add an element of dishonesty, using enticements that do not accurately reflect the content being delivered," says Wikipedia.

What the EFF does is essentially the political equivalent of clickbait, where it manufactures a target for outrage (and often justifiable outrage, as in the Clicksbait example), and uses that as an enticement to sample its revolutionary wares. As with digital clickbait, it’s essentially fraud, to disguise the paucity of the actual content. It’s a lot easier than doing the hard work of producing good content.

Highlighting the EFF’s propensity to go the easy, populist route, the DA’s Phumzile van Damme tweeted: "I’d rather have men stand up against GBV, and not threaten violence because of my hair. But that’s just me. It’s easy to stand up against Clicks but not against your fellow men who kill and brutalise women daily."

The invariable outcome of a reliance on clickbait is losing your audience’s trust, over time. Whether the same fate awaits our brave red-clad fighters will be determined at the polls.

Certainly, we can look forward to more of the Clicksbait tactics in a future where their staged tantrums at parliament don’t really work that well on Zoom.

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