I feel a bit like the last hyena to arrive at the kill this week. The whole sorry FNB carcase has been so thoroughly picked over, gnawed at and regurgitated that there isn't much left for me and even the vultures have moved on, preferring the rich pickings of the Nkandla kill. But there are still a couple of bones to grind so here goes.
It's hard to believe that the whole FNB business wasn't an intentional publicity stunt. I say that because FNB and its parent FirstRand are highly sophisticated operators and nothing gets done at a large corporate without being first signed off by someone in a high position. That rule is central to the very notion of corporate job preservation. So to even suggest that an expensive advertising campaign could be launched for a major bank like FNB without a single senior executive of that bank signing the project off beggars belief.
I have to say that had I been a senior executive at FNB I would have certainly signed the project off knowing full well that it might cause rather more than ripples among certain members of our beloved ruling party. I doubt whether even I would have anticipated the blind rage shown by the ANC's bully in chief, Gwede Mantashe, but even if I had it would have been a risk worth taking.
The advertising campaign (for those of you who may have slipped in and out of a coma this past week) simply involved getting young, mostly black South Africans to talk about their hopes and expectations for the future. The comments were apparently unscripted and weren't particularly surprising given the political climate in the country.
This is obviously why certain elements of the ANC, ably lead by the frothing and spitting Mantashe, labelled the whole campaign as "treasonous". It was, of course, nothing of the sort but if you happen to be member of a political party with a reputation for sleaze and little else then the comments would undoubtedly have rubbed a scab off an ever festering sore.
The ANC made clear its feelings about the FNB ad, carefully avoiding any rational debate or discussion, and the poor bank were forced to issue what the media has gleefully interpreted as a grovelling apology. Bearing in mind the viciousness of the ANC and the fact that the children who had been filmed making the comments were all easily identifiable I think FNB did the right thing. I wouldn't put it past the ANC to compile dossiers on those involved in order to victimise them at some future date. The party's capacity for evil appears to know no bounds.
One of the things that really rankled with the comrades was a comment by a sixteen year old that the Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshega, was "brainless". How can a mere sixteen year old call someone in such an exalted position and a respected elder of the ruling party brainless they fumed? So having sex at the age of 12 is OK with the ruling party but having an opinion at the age of 16 isn't it seems.
In a robust democracy it's perfectly acceptable to pass such comments on those in power and one only needs to look at examples from the merciless US, UK and French press to know that our politicians are treated with kid gloves by comparison. When, if ever, are they going to start behaving like adults?
I would suggest that FNB have done ordinary South Africans a huge favour. Far from rushing to close bank accounts in protest, people should be grateful that the campaign brought out the real ugliness of the ANC for all to see. While the SA delegation was poncing around in Davos telling doubtful investors that SA is open for foreign investment, the general secretary of the party and his henchmen were revealing the true spirit of the party. The message is abundantly clear; deal with us at your peril and on our terms, or else it will be worse for you.
The recent threat to withdraw Amplats' mining license unless the company rethought its plan to retrench 14000 workers is another fine example of government bullying. Once again it was that business genius Gwede Mantashe who labelled Amplats "unpatriotic" and accused big business of treating the government with disdain.
I wonder why David Cameron didn't threaten to throw Honda out of the UK when they announced they were laying off 800 workers because of poor sales. Probably because he understands better than Cde Gwede that companies don't run on fresh air and that they need to make profits to survive and be able to pay wages. As I have said many times before our cabinet ministers really could benefit from a course in basic economics.
The collective feeling of disappointment that FNB was seen to backtrack by apologising to the ANC is an understandably emotional one. We have all been brought up to believe that the good guy triumphs over evil in the end. When the caped crusader of FNB rushed in last week with the refreshingly innovative You Can Help campaign it looked for a moment as though the voice of the ordinary South African might be heard.
Far from being an attempt to unseat a democratically elected government or to stir up opposition ahead of the next election the campaign was, I believe, an honest attempt to give young South Africans a voice and to ask whether we couldn't be doing better than we are as a country.
The government's wholly unreasonable and bullying response makes it quite clear that the subject of service delivery is not up for discussion. So the good guy retires with a torn cape and a bloody nose and we are left casting around for a new hero to save us. Or maybe a heroine?
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