The advertisement for Fish and Chips Co. that the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corp. declined to air adds to a number of spots designed to play on ethnic or political divisions in the nation that have sparked controversy -- and even more free publicity -- in recent years.
The 30-second ad shows a mansion flying the South African flag labeled as Nkandla, referring to Zuma's home that local press say has received $23 million in improvement in recent months, including new fences and a medical clinic. Inside, a long table of women and children eat the inexpensive meal -- a nod to Zuma's polygamous lifestyle -- with one woman referring to the president as "Zuzulicious."
The ad had been scheduled to air Monday night on SABC, but the television broadcaster declined to show it. Kaizer Kganyago, a spokesman for SABC, said the broadcaster refused to air the ad as its officials believed it implied Zuma himself lent his credibility to the 25 rand ($2.85) food deal.
"The impression is given that the family is endorsing the brand," Kganyago told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
However, the fast food restaurant later issued a statement saying SABC executives told them the ad "was considered too controversial" to air.
The move comes after a news editor at the broadcaster, funded by television license fees and advertising, sent an email telling staff to avoid referring the president's home and the surrounding community as "Zumaville." While Kganyago acknowledged such an email had been sent, he described it as a "style" issue aimed at accuracy, rather than an editorial decision to limit criticism of the president.
Zuma, 70, remains popular in his Zulu homeland and many say he will win another term as the head of the African National Congress, which would put him in a commanding position to get a second term as president. Some have supported Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to take over the party.
Politically-themed ads often hit South Africa -- many clearly designed to stoke conversation and thoughts about their subjects. Last year, South Africa's grilled chicken firm Nando's pulled an ad showing an actor portraying Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe daydreaming about fictional, frolicking times with deceased dictators including Moammar Gadhafi, Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein to the tune of Mary Hopkins' hit song "Those Were the Days." Nando's also saw SABC refuse an ad earlier this year attempting to make a joke of xenophobia in the country.
"I personally believe it was a strategy for their ad to do that," Kganyago said of the controversial fish and chips ad.