Screen grab of the controversial FNB ad. (Picture: Supplied)
I HAVE been a follower of South African and international politics for many decades as a student and a journalist.
I was harassed by apartheid police when I was finishing high school. I was even arrested on the same night the entire Sharpeville Six were rounded up. And it could have been worse.
So, there is little that amazes and even less that shocks me in politics. But I have to say that the ANC’s disquieting and dishonest accusations against a top South African bank this week reaches that threshold.
That the ANC and some of its alliance partners this week launched a blistering attack on First National Bank (FNB), accusing it of treason and undermining democracy and government, is extreme and dishonest.
FNB, often referred to as the high street wing of FirstRand [JSE:FSR], South Africa’s second biggest JSE-listed bank, has run a campaign on national TV in which a 17-year-old girl Soweto schoolgirl expressed concerns about crime, corruption and a shambolic public education system.
With the campaign, the FNB wanted to reinvigorate the push to build a non-racial democracy from the ashes of apartheid.
But this invited an angry response from the ANC, exposing the thinness of the ruling party’s skin and contradicting its 19 years in power and virtually unassailable two-thirds majority in parliament.
Whether the ANC likes it or not, the majority of black South Africans - let alone white people - will continue to be unhappy about the government’s failure to address the issues raised by the young girl.
Accusing the FNB of all sorts of things is not going to make people’s complaints go away. The ANC had better know that.
Instead, this raises fears about freedom of expression in the country.
It is an open secret that the ANC is aware that Nelson Mandela’s “Better Life For All" is starting to ring hollow. Millions of blacks are seeing little improvement in their lives, despite strong economic growth since 1994.
Analysts tell the media the party is worried about its popularity among the so-called Born Frees - young South Africans who have no memory of apartheid. The 17-year-old teen that speaks to the camera in the advert is one of them.
Again, the viciousness of the ANC’s reaction suggests it is concerned about general elections which are scheduled for around April next year.
Though there is no chance that it might lose these elections, its support will dwindle as long as it shows signs of intolerance.
FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana was part of the Naledi High School audience which was addressed by the teenager, and this means he agreed to the advert.
So, the attack on FNB is nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honourable man, a loyal and dedicated South African.
Nxasana is rated among the country’s top black CEOs. He took over the leadership of a company whose performance was mediocre and improved its earnings.
He took the reins of a firm that lacked a clear African expansion strategy and introduced it to the full success of this South African company. Now the company has offices in India and Nigeria.
Having interviewed Nxasana on a couple of occasions, I am fully aware that he loves this country just like all ANC head honchos.
I find the attack on Nxasana’s company downright vicious. It is far worse than the vitriol that emanated from the presidency when former president Thabo Mbeki forced former FirstRand CEO Paul Harris to pull the plug on the FNB-sponsored crime advert.
I can assure the ANC that Nxasana has been through every top clearance available and would never have been given his position with any question of his loyalty to this country.
That he wanted to run this campaign shows that he is as concerned about the issues of corruption and crime as all South Africans.
The ANC - once led by great leaders like John Langalibalele Dube, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela - fought apartheid, oppression and intolerance at every level.
But it is set to become irrelevant if it becomes the party of intolerance and hatred.
* Mzwandile Jacks is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are his own.
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