Magazine article New Internationalist

Here's the Beef: The Grand Opening of McDonald's First Fast-Food Restaurant in South Africa Heralds Bad News for the Health of the Nation

Magazine article New Internationalist

Here's the Beef: The Grand Opening of McDonald's First Fast-Food Restaurant in South Africa Heralds Bad News for the Health of the Nation

Article excerpt

THE CAMERA ZOOMS in on a young African couple emerging from a church. Newly married, neatly permed and wearing the very latest in expensive Western wedding garb, they head for the groom's sleek sports car under a hail of rice. Out onto the highway and off they go, alone at last. As they glance lovingly at each other they catch a glimpse of the Golden Arches in their rear - view mirror. The honeymoon can wait! McDonald's beckons!

Amid the smiles of the restaurant's mainly white clientele our bride and groom make their grand entrance. They place their orders with a pair of bubbly, eager white girls behind the counter, then settle down at a small table to bite into what their faces tell us could only be sheer ecstasy between a bun. Before they take that second rapturous bite a small, white child bounces to their table and presents them with a flower. Our couple is overwhelmed. Could the new South Africa be more perfect? The image disappears from our TV screens, and a manly voice reads the solemn words below: 'McDonald's - we're here to share your life.'

For better or for worse, McDonald's has arrived in South Africa. The hype surrounding the grand opening of their Johannesburg store came complete with balloons, TV and radio personalities, flyers, musical bands and a throng of people who just came to see what all the excitement was about. Ample newspaper coverage was assured by an on - going legal battle between McDonald's the multinational giant and McDonald's the local fast - food franchise, which took advantage of the sanction years to register a similar name and a yellow - arched logo of its own.

Opening day at McDonald's was heralded by an American - style parade which marched to the doors and was met by an African Church choir singing soulful Christian songs in Xhosa and Zulu. At last the Pearly Gates - or rather the Golden Arches - were about to open. The patient masses, many of whom had camped out on the pavement overnight, began to press forward. As they rushed inside, an inspired master of ceremonies made his final decree through a loudspeaker: 'McDonald's - no country is complete without one.'

One could argue that it's time for South Africans to enjoy a bit of fun and games, time for the people to relax with a bit of mindless entertainment and tasteless multinational junk food, after all the years of battle against apartheid's reign of terror. As disillusion begins to set in, with the lack of new job opportunitiesor any noticeable difference in the material conditions of life for the majority, perhaps an evening with the Cosby Show can provide a glimmer of hope for a better life. …

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