The fallout between the ANC and First National Bank (FNB) over the bank’s advertising campaign was a sign of lurking tensions between government and business.
This is the view of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry after FNB issued an apology to the governing party on Friday.
The ANC criticised the bank’s You Can Help campaign, which featured young people expressing their views on the state of the country, saying it would spawn resentment for the government and its programmes.
Chamber chief executive Neren Rau said business had difficulty reading signals from government.
“It is difficult to know what we should do. We are told to be more outspoken, but when we are, we are criticised. I didn’t see the advert. I don’t think FNB would have done it to cause tensions. They were responding to the call (for business) to be more outspoken,” he said.
However, Rau said the outcome of Friday’s meeting between the bank and the ANC exemplified the cordial way in which business and the government should deal with issues “before things got worse”.
Last year, Nedbank chairperson Reuel Khoza also drew flak from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe for remarking in the bank’s annual report that the country’s leadership could not lead because of their “sheer incapacity to deal with the complexity of 21st-century governance and leadership”.
University of the Free State vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen yesterday expressed his disapproval of FNB’s apology on social media.
“I am deeply disappointed by FNB for running to apologise/explain to a political party for airing the voices of children. Does FNB realise how much blood was spilt for the right to say what you think? I fear for my country,” he wrote.
Former Old Mutual CEO Kuseni Dlamini said the ANC-FNB saga raised a number of questions about the manner in which issues that concern “the state of the nation” were communicated.
“We need a degree of consensus and understanding about how best to articulate such issues, and to safeguard the right of individuals to raise their views in a carefully considered way, given that some issues can be sensitive,” he said.
Dlamini said the lesson from the FNB saga was that business had the right to articulate its views, but at the same time the challenge was how to manage the reaction.
“The crucial thing in any advertising campaign is to carefully consider not just the intended, but also the unintended consequences,” he said.
Asked if such a fallout between the ANC and the bank over the campaign would not harm the country’s image in the eyes of potential investors, Dlamini said it was important for an emerging economy to project itself in a positive way.