The African National Congress reacted with fury after First National Bank launched a brand campaign which the party says is actually a political statement and propaganda for the Democratic Alliance. Not surprisingly, the bank has already been called an enemy of the ANC and was forced to remove the ad. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
FNB was called a number of nasty things on Monday by ANC spindoctors after it launched a brand campaign that featured online videos, showing school children giving their views on the country. The ANC, ANC Youth League, ANC Women’s League and the Young Communist League all issued statements condemning the campaign. The bank was accused of basically campaigning for the DA.
The bank said it spoke to 1,300 children from around the country to get a “current snapshot of the opinions of the youth” and filmed some of the children at Naledi Secondary School in Soweto. The views expressed by some of the children infuriated the ANC.
A boy called Christopher said, “South African people need to wake up. 1994 is gone! It is gone! This very minute South Africa faces unemployment, poverty and nationwide strikes, and a government rife with corruption.”
“Stop voting for the same government in hopes for change, instead change your hopes to a government that has the same hopes as us,” said a girl.
Other statements included harsh criticism of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga for the textbook scandal, as well as President Jacob Zuma for the Nkandla renovation and upgrade saga.
The youth league said in its statement: “The campaign claims to be a call to action to assist resolve ‘the challenges’ of South Africa as supposedly told through the mouths of young people. The very first fact is that this campaign does no such thing. FNB, in an obviously lame attempt to recreate an Arab Spring of some sort in South Africa, uses children to make unproven claims of a ‘government rife with corruption’, indeed if this is the case, why does FNB not ‘help’ as they purport and bring these allegations to the fore so that the law enforcement agencies may bring such criminals to book?”
The league called on South Africans to close ranks against FNB and said that the board of First Rand Bank should punish CEO Michael Jordaan harshly for the campaign.
“Business as a whole has more than enough platforms from which to raise any issues with the ANC government, and this they have been doing, there is no basis for such insults and treasonous attacks on our government,” the league said.
“The intention is clear and the enemy is unmasked. For years, South Africans have implored those fortunate enough to have global links to refrain from speaking ill of our country. Today, FNB is bold enough to take off its nameless and faceless mask and show the extent it is willing to go to undermine the gains of our democracy and the legitimate, democratic government of the people.”
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the views of the children were actually generated by FNB, as they can be seen reading scripts in some shots.
“While we believe that people are entitled to their views, we don’t accept that young kids should be used as proxies to articulate political views espoused as in the case of the FNB advertisement,” he said.
The ANC Women’s League also released a statement, praising the bank for pulling one video, but demanded an apology as well.
The Young Communist League said that the campaign was to garner votes for the DA, but Mmusi Maimane , national spokesman for the official opposition in Parliament, denied the campaign was political.
“The ANC and ANCYL objections to the commercial are reminiscent of the Apartheid government’s approach to dissent. During Apartheid, whenever opinions were raised that questioned the actions of government those opinions would be branded as ‘treasonous’. The ANC seems to have adopted the same approach now – harshly attacking anyone who it might have disagreements with,” Maimane said.
“The truth and relevance of FNB's commercial is plain for all to see: The National Planning Commission’s diagnostic report identified corruption and service delivery as some of our greatest challenges. Have ANC leaders themselves not acknowledged that corruption and service delivery are serious problems?”
This is not the first time that the bank and the ruling party have clashed. In 2007, FNB launched an anti-crime campaign that was quickly pulled after harsh words from the then-president Thabo Mbeki.
Several ANC leaders have complained that the public perception is that the party is corrupt.
In his opening speech at the party’s 53rd national conference in Mangaung, Zuma said, “The campaign against corruption continues. Our country is one of the most transparent societies when it comes to the fight against corruption, it is talked about often in the public domain as there is a unified effort by all in society to build a corruption-free South Africa.
“Government has established institutions that probe corruption including the Special Investigating Unit, and units within the SA Police Service, Treasury and other departments. We urge the public to continue assisting these units with information so that we can stop corruption in its tracks,” said Zuma.
In August, Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy president of the state and the ruling party, said: “As cadres of the movement we should not be caught with our fingers in the till. It gives the ANC a bad name and depicts it as an organisation overrun with greed, corruption, venality and loose morals. This perception goes against the stated principles and values we stand for and diminishes our public image.”
The Nkandla controversy is not subsiding – we’re waiting for a report by the Department of Public Works to explain why upgrades to the cost of R248 million were authorised – and the newspapers are now running stories about parastatals forking out millions to bankroll business breakfasts hosted by The New Age, which is owned by the Gupta family, known Zuma funders. At the same time, the commission of inquiry into the Arms Deal has run into shark-infested water and there is no indication that the man who ordered it (the president) is going to step in.
The public protector has warned before that the South African government is in danger of finding that corruption has become endemic. The auditor-general has also sounded similar warnings.
According to Corruption Watch, up to 80% of South Africans do not report corruption because they do not believe that anything will be done about it.
Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis said, “We are flooded with important policy documents like the National Development Plan and comments by the minister of finance among others condemning corruption. And yet the year ends with some very serious corruption allegations directed at no less than the president and his family and the unfortunate decision to forge ahead with the Secrecy Bill.”
ANC ally and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is fond of saying that corruption is stealing from the poor – and in all responses to the FNB ad, the party claimed to be the only legitimate guardian of democracy and progress. A champion of the poor, in other words.
It seems that this message is not getting believed out there.
Late on Monday, FNB took the video off the website.
Watch: ENCA report on the ANC vs FNB
Instead of dealing with the perception, false or not, that it is corrupt and unable to lead the country anymore, the party has fiercely attacked FNB to the point of painting the company as an Apartheid sympathiser and racist. There is also the unpleasant thought that the ANC thinks private companies should not express political views that are not favourable to the party.
Which is not to say FNB is blameless in all of this – perhaps using young children in such a fashion, with the potential for such an ugly backfire, was not wise. It ought to have been predictable that the ANC would react in such a way. If the intention was always to goad the party into a reaction then, surely, using young children is problematic?
This criticism of FNB does little, though, to deflect the reality (vividly illustrated by Ranjeni Munusamy’s Daily Maverick story, The ANC’s imagined and real enemies: ‘Creep counter-revolution vs. creeping scandal). It's just a latest attack on the newest of the ANC’s enemies, period. DM
Photo: A frame grab from the FNB's ad.