HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A militant youth group loyal to Zimbabwe's president is calling for a boycott of a restaurant chain whose latest advertisement depicts the aging, authoritarian president as "the last dictator standing," state radio reported Tuesday.
The radio quoted the head of the group calling for South Africa-based Nando's to withdraw the ad that depicts President Robert Mugabe or face punitive action. Jimu Kunaka, the head of group known as Chipangano, said the restaurant chain risked action including a boycott. Chipangano is a "brotherhood" of Mugabe loyalists.
The commercial that touts chicken shows Mugabe dining alone at Christmas, his empty table set for departed dictators including Moammar Gadhafi.
To the soundtrack of Mary Hopkin's hit song "Those were the days, my friend," the commercial shows an actor playing Mugabe reminiscing about his times with former dictators. It portrays him and Gadhafi engaging in a water-pistol fight, with Gadhafi wielding a golden AK-47 water pistol.
The ersatz Mugabe also makes sand angels with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, sings karaoke with Chairman Mao, and holds overthrown Ugandan dictator Idi Amin astride a tank in a scene parodying Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the hit movie "Titanic."
The head of Nando's Zimbabwe franchise said it was not informed of the South African television and press campaign, and is independent of them.
Musekiwa Kumbula, corporate affairs director at Innscor Africa, holders of the Nando's franchise in Zimbabwe, said in a statement the 60-second television commercial widely seen on Zimbabwe websites was generated in South Africa for its market and clientele.
The Innscor group "strongly feels the advertisement is insensitive and in poor taste," he said.
But, he added, "No consultation takes place between different franchises when they are formulating marketing strategies."
It is an offense under Zimbabwe law to insult Mugabe or undermine the authority of his office.
Mugabe once maintained close ties with Gadhafi. But relations became strained over payments for a gasoline deal during acute fuel shortages and shortly before the Libyan leader befriended Western leaders such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom Mugabe harshly criticized for his policies toward Zimbabwe.
Chairman Mao's China helped train Mugabe's guerrillas to end white rule in the former British colony of Rhodesia and Mugabe has been a frequent visitor to China ever since.
Mugabe played host to Saddam Hussein at a world summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1986. And though Mugabe was a sharp critic of apartheid-era South African President P.W. Botha — depicted in the commercial being pushed on a swing by Mugabe — apartheid South Africa remained Zimbabwe's biggest trading partner.
Business tycoon Ray Kaukonde, a major stockholder in Innscor and a former provincial governor in Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, said the advertising denigrated Mugabe. He called it "a violation of business ethics" and said it was "in total disregard of African values," state radio reported Tuesday.
State radio said Chipangano demanded an apology be made to the nation for the "negative portrayal" of Mugabe, 87, who led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980. Critics, Western governments and rights groups have said he has become increasingly authoritarian and unleashed a decade of violence, vote-rigging and intimidation amid a breakdown of the rule of law since he ordered the seizures of thousands of white-owned farms in 2000.
Human rights activists accuse the Chipangano group of forming violent gangs that roam Harare's impoverished townships and seize property from street vendors and householders seen as supporters of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's former opposition party in the nation's fragile 30-month coalition government.
Harare-based officials for the South African-based satellite television provider DStv said that if the commercial is aired on South African channels, it cannot be filtered out of programs received by tens of thousands of Zimbabwean subscribers.