South African police have used rubber bullets to disperse a mob trashing H&M stores in and around Johannesburg, after the brand used a controversial picture of a black child.
The protests were organised by the radical Economic Freedom Fighters’ party (EFF).
H&M apologised several days ago for the image, which ran on its website.
It featured a young black boy modelling a green hoodie with “coolest monkey in the jungle” written on it.
The retailer withdrew both the product and the image after it sparked outrage and allegations of racism on social media.
“We’re deeply sorry that the picture was taken, and we also regret the actual print,” it said in a statement.
Video footage showed activists trashing displays, kicking over clothes rails and shoving mannequins.
Floyd Shivambu, an MP from the EFF, tweeted: “That @hm nonsense of a clothing store is now facing consequences for its racism. All rational people should agree that the store should not be allowed to continue operating in South Africa.”
South African Police (SAPS) also tweeted about the vandalism, writing: “Several incidents of protests at H&M stores around the province have been reported.
“At the East Rand Mall the protesters managed to enter the shop & stole several items. #SAPS members had to intervene and dispersed the group of protesters by firing rubber bullets.”
EFF leader Julius Malema defended the rampage, saying: “We make no apology about what the fighters did today.”
“We are not going to allow anyone to use the colour of our skin to humiliate us, to exclude us,” he added.
While consumers in several countries had called for a boycott of H&M as the picture went viral, the mother of the child model has said that she did not find it offensive.
She said the hoodie was “one of hundreds of outfits my son has modelled”, and urged people to “stop crying wolf all the time”.
Addressing the EFF store takeovers, she tweeted that “apartheid and racism [have] corrupted some so much that this is thought to be reasonable in response to a hoodie with the word “monkey” on it”.
More than one celebrity has cut their ties with H&M over the hoodie row.
Singer The Weeknd, who had collaborated with the company, said the advert made him feel “shocked and embarrassed”.
He was joined by rapper G-Eazy, who had been due to bring out a clothing line with H&M in March.
“I can’t allow for my name and brand to be associated with a company that could let this happen,” the musician said.
“I hope that this situation will serve as the wake up call that H&M and other companies need to get on track and become racially and culturally aware, as well as more diverse at every level.”