Black Dolls Matter: How the wrong price tag in Botswana stirred racial debate in South Africa

“Black Dolls Matter” activists shouldn’t despair. African doll sales are picking up across the continent.

SOUTH Africa may insist it’s the Rainbow Nation but racial tensions are still alive and well, if an incident at a Shoprite outlet in Botswana earlier this week is anything to go by. 

Someone took a photo of the same make of two dolls, one black and the other white with different price tags, with black doll cheaper at 99.95 Pula (about $9.22) compared to the white doll, going for 149.95 Pula (about $13.8). 

The photo was widely shared on social media, sparking a racial debate - not in Botswana but South Africa, with some swearing the pricing was racially motivated and others writing it off as an honest mistake.

Shoprite was quick to clarify that the dolls retailed at the same price, and issued a statement saying it was regrettable that the incorrect display of the price for a toy in a Botswana store had erupted into a racial storm on social media in South Africa to imply that the black doll was inferior.

 “The fact of the matter is that in Shoprite Maun in Botswana, the price card of 99.95 Pula for a plush bear was moved to underneath the Cutie Baby black doll displayed next to it. Its cost is P149.95, exactly the same as the white counterpart,” the statement read.


On close observation, it’s clear that the price card of 99.95 Pula for a plush bear was moved to underneath the Cutie Baby black doll displayed next to it at the Shoprite Maun in Botswana—but there were many who weren’t looking close. 

A similar incident caused uproar in the US back in 2010 when a Walmart store cut the price of a black Barbie doll to nearly half that of the doll’s white model.

Not all dolls are equal?
A photo was posted online in that case too displaying the two dolls side by side with the one with brown skin and dark hair selling at $3.00 and the fair skinned one retaining the original price of $5.93. As with the “Cutie” Botswana dolls, the Barbies were exactly of the same make, aside from their colour. 

A Walmart spokeswoman said then that even though both dolls were initially equally priced, the change for the “coloured” doll was part of the chain’s efforts to clear shelf space for its new spring inventory, adding that it’s price was reduced due to its lower sale numbers in the hopes that purchases would increase.

“Pricing like items differently is part of inventory management in retailing,” she explained. But critics insisted Walmart should have been more sensitive in its pricing choice, arguing that lowering the price of only one was equivalent to devaluing the black doll even though that may not have been the store’s intent. And that’s exactly what some in South Africa believe happened; an attempt to elevate white over black.

“BlackDollsMatter activists

These “Black Dolls Matter” activists shouldn’t despair though. African doll sales are picking up across the continent. In Nigeria for instance, the Queens of Africa dolls, created by Taofick Okoya who wanted his daughter and other Nigerian girls to have dolls they could identify with, are outselling the White Barbie, according to a January Reuters report which states that about 9,000 pieces of the popular doll are sold each month, making up 15% of the country’s toy market. 

Even better is that orders come in from as far as the US, Brazil and even Europe. This particular doll retails at £4.50 each. Producers of white dolls and White people in general are yet to protest against that milestone. There’s also the (inconvenient) fact that not all African parents buy “coloured’”dolls for their children and several children themselves prefer white to black. These “truths” clearly aren’t apparent to those who took to social media to express their outrage including the following. 

Mr Klowey: Please explain why a black doll is cheaper than a white one. Are Black people cheap? 

Gaddafi198814: Racist Shoprite. Next time make a mistake with your white dolls, make them cheap.

Mzimasi Jama Mahlungulu Mxm: You can all defend this. I don’t care but if it’s true, it’s clearly racist. Why assume that Blacks can’t afford high prices?

Lucky L. Mthombeni: These fools who just saw the latest picture that explains the damage control done by Shoprite Group really didn’t see the actual picture. It was indeed a racist price tag you dummies.

Grant Bwalya Mwaba: It is embarrassingly sad but at the same time sends a good message to us parents. Look at our women and their fake long hair, bleached skin, etc. All this is done to imitate White people.

But there were also many who saw it for the error it clearly was.

Lerato Mawela: So this made the news? A doll with the price tag of a bear? Why is it racist? Shame. There’s a doll revolution going around.

Sindephi Jika: Black doll vs. White doll. Yeah, welcome to South Africa.

Debby Scharneck: We are a sick country.

Edgar Mogano: Everything seems to be racist these days…

Vuyolwethu Patrick Dondashe: This is bordering on ridiculous now. South Africa is a racially charged country, even objects are classified based on color!

Patricia Trishee Dimairo: This is getting out of hand. It only depicts how insecure and uncomfortable we’re in our own skin.

Andile Lisa Vusani: Low self-esteem among us (Blacks) is a big problem that will continue from generation to generation.

Thami Lee: Alien Son: Dad, what is that? Alien Dad: They’re called humans. Alien Son: They look stupid. Alien Dad: Yeah, they are stupid.

Mxolisi Mangwana: This racism thing is boring. I pray for the next generation to be panda bears, black and white, lol and eat grass or whatever panda bears eat.

Melda Adlem: Both dolls cost the same. It’s the teddy bear that is cheaper. Now is it an insult to animals?

Melanie-Ann Diesel: I’m shocked that Shoprite would discriminate against plush bears like this!

TheManFromLaramee: Can you imagine the vitriol had it been a plush monkey or gorilla instead of a plush bear?

Topo Matlhape: Sometimes we Black people victimise ourselves unnecessarily. What if the white doll was cheaper? We wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Didier Peinke: Haha they would spin it and claim it’s racist for Shoprite to sell more expensive dolls to Black people while providing cheap ones for Whites.

Lorraine Swannell: Everybody would be jumping up and down yelling “White privilege.”

Lee Catterson: I agree. The Darkies would be all over it crying about Whities getting cheaper dolls, lol! You guys are so wrapped up in your racism you wear it like a blanket.

Garth Powell: Yesterday while shopping around for a new car, I noticed that the black ones were cheaper than the white ones. Being a White person, it seems I must now pay more for the white model and keep society happy.

Lebogang Cryptic Mangena: Black cars actually cost more than white ones.

Philani Young P Marasha: As long as white cars still have black tyres, racism will never end.

Jillian Seaborne: What about hair products that are cheaper for natural hair? That’s also racist.

Prince Charles: Even brown bread is cheaper than white bread.

David Ryan Katz: Paper is white. My walls are white. Why? Must be racist.

Sipho Mabuza: Black paint is expensive?

Thandokuhle Mtato Sosha Mwandla: Toilet paper is still white and I think that’s racist. When are they going to start making black toilet tissue?

Yibanuty Ngqawana: Maybe they will change it mate. In the past, we complained about white computers and they made black ones!

Sylvia’s Beauty Box: Refuse bags are black. Where will this stop?

Phiri James Gordon: Black dolls are made from recycled material.

Thamue Jacob Maseko: I hate it when blacks prove that we are indeed the “less smart” race because like it or not, we are known for naturally being stupid and this does not paint a better picture. 

Lauren Dignam: You know what we need desperately? A cure for stupidity! I mean honestly, anyone with 2 brain cells whether Black, White, Indian, Asian, purple or green could see that the wrong price was displayed under that item.

Louisa Jiane: Some people can’t read. That price tag said teddy bear, not doll and then they are quick to say Shoprite is promoting racism!

Portia Ledwaba: Anyone who passed Grade 3 can see that it was human error. Unless someone switched the price tags to spark racial rage.

Kalahari Rioolkat: If the idiot that took the picture could read like an educated person, he wouldn’t feel unreasonably sour about race. So the true racist is the person that lodged the complaint. Or is this person now going to complain about a black doll being called a plush bear?

Vusi Maphunya: I’m not Black. I’m African so stop referring to me as a Black man!

Pardon Tichatonga Kanhenga: Attention seeking. The price labels describe the dolls clearly. Everyone who says Shoprite are racist is illiterate. In Botswana, all Shoprite staff are black. Come on, spare us the drivel.

LynetteCloete: Just goes to show. People can’t read!

Annah_African: So basically this is not a racial issue, it’s an illiteracy issue. Go to school guys!

Robert Du Plantis: Yes, now I agree with the “fees must fall”. People end up unable to read descriptions of items on price tags! So please, don’t let them pay for higher education, it’s not helping!

Sahil Haripersad: Unfortunately, some people have the ability to find the camera on their phone but lack basic literacy…

EdwardBigyouthNemutamvuni: But even if the tag was correctly displayed with the cheaper price for a black doll, I don’t think it’s racist. Prices are determined by supply and demand. Retailers can make special prices on their stock and it is within their authority to do that. The concept of racism sometimes is misunderstood or is used out of context. I’m Black and appealing to all Blacks not to abuse the concept of ‘racism’ please.

Tebogo Ramaila: Why is it seen as racism? If that was indeed the black doll’s price, that’s actually helpful. More than anything, black folks will buy black dolls for their kids which will promote self awareness and undo the brainwashing the parents were exposed to. I once watched a video where toddlers were subjected to black vs. white dolls. When asked which doll was bad and ugly, most of those kids if not all pointed to the black doll. Isn’t that sad?

Maré Nieuwoudt: Think someone did the switch on purpose. But what’s the big deal? I would have bought the cheaper one. In any case, a doll is a doll.

ElizabethZendaMugadza: So what if it is cheaper? I know it’s not the case but wouldn’t it be a plus if it were? I would so choose the black one. Hello, it’s a toy. Price does not add value to its purpose. It’s a play thing.

Khethomthandayo Safansini: How come Blacks eat low priced poor quality meat from dodgy butcheries that suit their pockets and buy cheap fake Chinese biscuits, Nike shoes, Levi’s Jeans etc from Nigerians?

Lihle Maphumulo: While thousands of people die in Syria and South Sudan, millions of South Africans living in squatter camps, uneducated youth, not to mention the high level of unemployment, I won’t even start on the crime rate, yet people are fighting over dolls. I rest my case. Only in South Africa.

Well, at least many found the debacle funny.

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