The grand opening of McDonald's first fast-food restaurant in South Africa heralds bad news for the health of the nation, says Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala.
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 in a bun. Before they take that second 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 MacDonald's the local fast-food franchise, which took advantage of the sanction years to register a similar name and a yellow-arched logo of it's own.
Opening day at McDonald's 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 opportunities or 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. Having the "young lions of the revolution" (as youth was called several years ago) mesmerised in front of a TV set in a shack and dreaming of an outing to McDonald's might keep them away from crime, drugs and the gangsterism which has rapidly become a way of life for well-armed, well-trained township youths with nothing better to do.
Before the grand opening a team of high-powered McDonald's consultants flew down here to do their market research. They drew up detailed consumer profiles and assessed their profit potential for the country as a whole. In the end they decided to take advantage of the influx to Johannesburg of people fleeing unemployment in the rural areas, or violence and overcrowding in the established peri-urban townships.
McDonald's Inc see their entry as a way of meeting the demand among this growing urban population for relatively cheap and easily available sustenance. What they seem to have failed to notice is that these new urban settlers, most of whom live from hand to mouth in make-shift cardboard shacks on illegally occupied land, are hardly likely to head for McDonald's. More likely they'll be found scavenging on a "fast-food fix" from the municipal garbage dumps.
But the global king of burgers is not to be deterred. As franchise-consultant partner Bendeta Parker put it: "The process of changing the lower-income market's traditional eating habits from things like sour milk and unprocessed foods to chips, burgers and a milkshake will be costly and timely, but will inevitably yield high returns over the longer term."
No doubt profiteers will make a killing. But who will benefit? The new health ministry is struggling to provide basic health services like clean water, immunisations and trained community healthcare workers to stem the high morbidity and mortality rates, which are on par with other poor African countries. Meanwhile the incidence of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and hypertension is growing at a phenomenal rate, especially among Africans. There's never been much resistance to changing from traditional high-fibre, natural diets to high-fat, over-refined Western eating habits. McDonald's can feel good about that.
In the words of the youth who came to chant on opening day: "Viva McDonald's! Viva Big Mac"
Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala is lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Durban-Westville, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.
For more information on campaigns world-wide visit the McSpotlight website - http://www.mcspotlight.org
McDonald's stores in Australia sell what they call "Happy Meals". The colourful meal container carries pictures of a Tasmanian Tiger, a white seal pup, a panda and a white rhinoceros - and underneath the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) logo, the following announcement:
"You can help WWF save threatened species. Join WWF through this McDonalds Happy Meal and you will receive 50 wildlife stamps free! When you join you will receive an enamel panda badge, a sticker and our quarterly magazine. Just mail your name, age and address details with a cheque for $35 to WWF/McDonalds Stamp Offer, Locked Bag 21, Hawthorn, Vic 3122 or call 1800 032 551. Remember to mention this Happy Meal to receive your free stamps."
In response to a phone enquiry from RIC, a WWF spokesperson said that WWF did not receive sponsorship money from McDonald's for the deal, and that the initial approach for the WWF involvement in the "Happy Meals" came from McDonald's.
This promotion is clearly aimed at children and the presence of the WWF logo is intended to give McDonald's a green image. Given the McLibel revelations about McDonald's involvement in rainforest destruction, it is unfortunate that WWF has allowed itself to be used in this way.
McDonald's Corporation (NYSE: MCD) with the help of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today unveiled one of the most advanced energy-saving restaurants in the country. Located in Bay Point, California just east of San Francisco, "The Energy-Efficient McDonald's"(T.E.E.M.) is a one-of-a-kind restaurant that is projected to use 25 percent less electricity in its first year.
The Bay Point McDonald's is designed to deliver maximum energy savings through an unprecedented array of energy-saving technologies, including computers, sky lights and high-tech sensors. The project's results will be evaluated for application at new and existing McDonald's restaurants.
"McDonald's has built energy-efficient features into our restaurants for years, but this one is taking energy conservation to a whole new level," said Bob Langert, director of environmental affairs for McDonald's Corporation.
In developing T.E.E.M., McDonald's brought together a group of energy experts, including the Department of Energy, National Audubon Society, Commonwealth Edison, Sieben Energy Associates and Tropic-Kool Engineering Corporation, to work with its Corporate Architecture department.
"We built this restaurant from the ground up with energy conservation playing a lead role in every construction decision and detail," said Tony Spata, manager of building systems for McDonald's Corporation. "T.E.E.M. represents a tremendous cooperative effort between public and private sector organizations."
McDonald's developed the first T.E.E.M. restaurant in partnership with PG&E, with manufacturers donating most of the equipment being tested. In addition to saving energy, the advanced systems will enhance restaurant conditions for customers and employees. For example, dining area ventilation will automatically respond to the needs of its actual occupancy level, and interior air quality will continuously be monitored to further reduce indoor pollutants.
"PG&E is proud to join with McDonald's to design and implement the most advanced energy-efficient technologies in the market today," said Tony Harris, vice president of marketing and sales for PG&E. "This will help McDonald's achieve real cost savings, and it will give us valuable information on the use of new energy-saving technology and equipment."
The 5,000-square-foot California restaurant including its PlayPlace is projected to use 25 percent less electricity, or 100,000 kilowatt- hours, for a projected annual savings of as much as $15,000. McDonald's operates more than 350 restaurants in PG&E's California service territory.
Although the Bay Point restaurant is the first of four T.E.E.M. restaurants to open in the next year, it will remain unique. The other restaurants, in Atlanta, Ga., Chicago, Ill., and Phoenix, Ariz., represent different climatic conditions, energy needs and design requirements.
PG&E is the largest investor-owned gas and electric utility in the United States.
In the first pay-per-view tie-in between a major studio and a national restaurant chain, Universal's Consumer Products Group has allied with McDonald's on a multimillion-dollar promo for this month's PPV launch of the Oscar-nominated swine feature ``Babe.''
The sheepherding pig, along with a menagerie of animal pals, will be included as a plush toy inside McDonald's Happy Meals for four weeks beginning Friday. Free posters will go to those who purchase both the Happy Meal and pay-per-view broadcast.