It is always awkward, even demeaning to both observer and observed, to watch any instance where puffed-up sanctimony is accommodated by unctuous deference.
Such is the case with the freshest collision between business and government here in SA, involving First National Bank and the African National Congress.
From the outset, I must make it clear that my sympathies are with neither body, and nor have they ever been. I disdain Big Business as much for its ethic of enriching a few at the usually unconscionable expense of the many, as I do the hollow posturings and transparent deceits of politics. I am, in short, a distrustful anarchist. Maybe a grumpy socialist, too.
The essence of the story is that FNB roused the wrath of the ANC with its “You Can Help” campaign. Basically, the bank extended its “How Can We Help You?” campaign (the obvious retort being, “By Getting Lost”) into a “You Can Help” initiative by soliciting and videoing views from young SA people (ages 10 to 22) concerning SA’s political, social and economic status quo and future. In effect, FNB provided an open forum for young people to express their views, and extended the same opportunity to the general public via a subsidiary website.
So far, so good.
With a remarkable glissade that, aside from its excessive kneejerk, would shame Dame Margot Fonteyn, the ANC slides in spastically with an accusation that FNB is encouraging young people to rebel against the government, this being treason (their spin-doctors obviously don’t know the word “sedition” or how it differs from treason). When will these yobs learn that criticism and dissent are good!? That robust debate is necessary? That engaging with different views is enlightening, while attempting to suppress them is self-destructive, especially in these times when information exchange has become so easy and rapid? When will they realise that trying to tie their people to a rock of cultural loyalty through legacy will inevitably breed resentment when trust has been exhausted and faith fatigue sets in?
Then, in an equally slick bit of fancy footwork characterised by slippery tangoesque quasi-copulation, FNB immediately kowtows to the demands of the ANC’s remonstrative bluster. FNB pulls the whole thing, ostensibly to “clear the air.” Likely as not, this issue will make the news once or twice more, if that, over the next few days, and then be heard of no more — the sad part being that the precedent will have been set and the idea spoilt for any other person, group, company or agency that wishes to contemplate something similar.
I don’t know who disgusts me more: The ANC for its whiny petulance and increasing intolerance, or FNB for bending over backwards to accommodate such petty fickleness.