FNB’s campaign ‘You can help’ has elicited a strong reaction. ‘The trouble with the campaign stems from the fact that some of the youngsters whose interviews on camera form the “grounding in reality” (according to FNB’s chief marketing officer, Bernice Samuels) of the exercise were brutally frank in giving expression to their views on aspects of their lives in post-liberation SA. This elicited a strong reaction from various African National Congress (ANC) formations, not unlike its response to artist Brett Murray painting and City Press publicising The Spear — the painting of President Jacob Zuma as Lenin with his manhood on display’.
Paul Hoffman, a director of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, has contributed to the debate with his article first published in Business Day today.
Link to Business Day article
THERE has been a lot of heat, but not too much light, around the subject of the “You Can Help” campaign launched, suspended, reinstated partially and eventually apologised for by First National Bank (FNB). This marketing exercise, intended to raise the profile of the bank among young people by engaging on and publicising a sample of their views on what is to be done to help the country succeed, has certainly succeeded in getting FNB into the news, even if not in the manner intended.
Rather than expose the young proponents of the controversial views to further criticism or to being attacked by vengeful cadres of the ANC as treasonous rebels, the powers that be at FNB decided to limit but to continue the campaign. FNB pulled offending clips to protect the children involved from coming to harm of the kind envisaged when the supporters of the ANC marched on the Goodman Gallery to present demands in relation to The Spear long after the painting was defaced by vandals who are awaiting trial on charges of malicious damage to property.
For the ANC’s political sanitising of the FNB campaign, not even a threat of litigation was needed. The leadership of the ANC preferred to deal with the bank in the court of public opinion and the political corridors of power and it has every reason to feel quite pleased with the outcome of its efforts. Dissenting views have been crushed and a major bank has been obliged to eat a full helping of humble pie.
The Bill of Rights enshrines the political rights of citizens. It says: “Every citizen is free to make political choices, which includes the right … to campaign for … a cause.”
There is no age limit to political rights, nor are children under 18 years of age and banks limited to supporting the ANC. The right to vote is for adults. Children have long been politically active in SA.
What values inform the outraged reaction of the ANC? Reportedly, emotions ran high when FNB CEO Michael Jordaan suggested to its delegation that the ANC had misunderstood the campaign. He was accused of insulting the government and feeding into the opposition narrative — much to his understandable bewilderment. Insulting governments and opposing them is the stuff of multiparty constitutional democracy. But this type of value system is not popular in some quarters in the ANC. Some of its cadres seek hegemonic control of all levers of power in society in a one-party state.
Others in the ANC, such as the late Kader Asmal, have called for the scrapping of the national democratic revolution, which is still being pursued by some in the ANC. Until the ANC abandons this 19th-century value system in favour of a more wholehearted adoption of the value system agreed by all major parties when the new constitutional dispensation was negotiated, the type of bewildering reactions that so confounded FNB are likely to continue. SA will be the poorer for this, as it means the closing down of hard-won democratic space and the unwarranted curtailment of the fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.
Speaking in more polite terms, Lindiwe Mokate of the South African Human Rights Commission notes: “The right to basic education is a constitutionally protected right that is unequivocally guaranteed to all children in SA. It is considered a central facilitative right that is not qualified by expressions such as ‘available resources’, ‘progressive realisation’ or ‘reasonable legislative measures’, which are applicable to other socioeconomic rights.” Motshekga’s draft guidelines are clearly dreadfully ignorant of this. The shambles in basic education is not likely to produce feelings of gratitude towards the minister in the children who are subjected to it daily.
It is right and good that the campaign continues, albeit in less strident fashion. It is wrong and bad that the ANC seeks to close down democratic space by resorting to the type of bullying tactics seen in the debacle of The Spear and now repeated on FNB.
Bullies are usually motivated by fear; what is it that the ANC fears?