FNB bul­lied into sub­mis­sion

Ri­val blows whis­tle on crime cam­paign

Finweek English Edition - - Companies & markets - BY MICHAEL COUL­SON

IT MUST BE TRUE, as my fel­low-colum­nist Thabo Mbeki points out, that no­body can prove that most South Africans (whether there be 40m or 50m of us, of which he is un­cer­tain – and rightly, given the flaws in re­cent cen­suses) are con­cerned about crime. But equally, no­body can prove that they aren’t. While we have to rely on anec­do­tal and thus sta­tis­ti­cally un­re­li­able ev­i­dence, its sheer weight is per­sua­sive.

It’s also true that, morally, a death is no more de­plorable be­cause the vic­tim is well known. As John Donne wrote: “Never seek to ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” How­ever, it’s only hu­man na­ture, and not the self-serv­ing cre­ation of the sala­cious me­dia, that the mur­der of some­one in­ter­na­tion­ally re­spected should at­tract more at­ten­tion than that of a com­muter pushed off a train to Soweto.

In­ter­est is height­ened when the vic­tim has done much to pro­mote the tourist in­dus­try, on which many pin high hopes for job cre­ation and the alle­vi­a­tion of rural poverty. There is a real cost to the econ­omy when some­body like David Rat­tray is mur­dered, and it’s le­git­i­mate for in­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate cit­i­zens to ex­press con­cern at the level of crime and its im­pact.

Not only in­di­vid­ual tourists, but in­ter­na­tional in­vestors, are scared off – as my fel­low colum­nist will be told by the panel of in­ter­na­tional busi­ness­men who ad­vise him in his day job.

It’s all very well for the po­lice to claim that the rate of crime is fall­ing. But (a) many of us (in deference to my fel­low-colum­nist, I won’t say “most”) dis­trust the fig­ures, and (b) even if they are valid, the in­ci­dence is too high.

Now I don’t know what pres­sures were brought to bear on First Na­tional Bank to drop its anti-crime cam­paign, and it doesn’t mat­ter. But it’s sim­ply not cred­i­ble that a ma­jor in­sti­tu­tion should em­bark on a R20m cam­paign with­out tak­ing ac­count of all the fac­tors it now says led to its “post­pone­ment”.

The fact that the au­thor­i­ties were tipped off by the chair­man of one of FNB’s ma­jor com­peti­tors is sim­ply dis­taste­ful, how­ever much Stan­dard’s Derek Cooper claims to have been mo­ti­vated by the most wor­thy and honourable con­sid­er­a­tions. As busi­ness­men – like politi­cians – usu­ally dis­sem­ble in such sit­u­a­tions, we can only draw our own con­clu­sions from what ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

We have to feel sorry for FNB’s Paul Har­ris, whose forth­right man­ner is a re­fresh­ing change from the prac­tised smooth­ness of most top bankers, few of whom have shown the same abil­ity to build a ma­jor busi­ness from scratch as have Har­ris and his RMB co-found­ing part­ners G T Fer­reira and Lau­rie Dip­pe­naar. It’s been sug­gested that, by first an­nounc­ing the cam­paign and then drop­ping it, he’s gained all the good pub­lic­ity while sav­ing lots of money and avert­ing the hos­til­ity of the Gov­ern­ment – or the ANC. I’m not so sure; I don’t think the black mark against his name will be so eas­ily erased.

And it’s the po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of the past week’s events that will re­ver­ber­ate most. On the one side, the craven at­ti­tude of much of the busi­ness com­mu­nity, with honourable ex­cep­tions like Jo­hann Ru­pert and PSG group’s Jan­nie Mou­ton. The les­son learnt un­der apartheid, that it can be un­com­fort­able to dis­agree in pub­lic with an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime, has not been forgotten.

On the other side is the added ev­i­dence of the grow­ing ten­dency to treat dis­si­dent views as at best po­lit­i­cally in­spired and thus of no weight, and at worst dis­loy­alty to the na­tion. Once again we see the un­healthy iden­tity of Gov­ern­ment, ANC and na­tion. Cooper and his cronies will do well to re­mem­ber the beast they are feed­ing. NEG­LI­GENT BAR­LOWORLD THE FNB/crime is­sue shows just how fast news can be­come stale, and it must have come as a re­lief to the be­lea­guered man­age­ment of Bar­loworld, but it does merit a post­script. I was writ­ing last week from one of Cape Town’s most hos­pitable and com­fort­able B&Bs, whose makeshift li­brary un­for­tu­nately – though un­sur­pris­ingly – con­tains nei­ther the col­lected works of Os­car Wilde nor a dic­tionary of quo­ta­tions.

So I couldn’t ver­ify the pre­cise words of the quo­ta­tion from The Im­por­tance of Be­ing Earnest, af­ter John Wor­thing ad­mits to Lady Brack­nell that he has lost both his fa­ther and mother. Back home and con­sult­ing my own li­brary, I can con­firm her re­sponse: “To lose one par­ent, Mr Wor­thing, may be re­garded as a mis­for­tune; to lose both looks like care­less­ness.”

Can any­thing be more ap­pro­pri­ate for a com­pany that con­trives to lose both its chair­man and CEO at the same time? SAA COULD LEARN FROM CO­MAIR YOU MAY also be get­ting bored with the SAA saga, but it’s worth point­ing out that a week af­ter the State-owned air­line said it would prob­a­bly need a few more bil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money, the private-sec­tor Co­mair has an­nounced that, in spite of higher fuel prices and pub­licly fi­nanced un­fair com­pe­ti­tion (my de­scrip­tion, I should add, not Co­mair’s), its op­er­at­ing profit in the six months to De­cem­ber was al­most 8% higher than a year ago.

It’s also man­ag­ing to up­grade and ex­pand its fleet, with­out ex­tend­ing a beg­ging bowl.

Co­mair refers to the over­traded na­ture of the do­mes­tic air mar­ket, but what bet­ter way to cure that than cut­ting SAA loose from Alec Er­win’s apron strings and forc­ing it to com­pete on an equal foot­ing, at huge sav­ings to the ex­che­quer?

Found it’s un­com­fort­able to dis­agree in pub­lic with an au­thor­i­tar­ian regime. Paul Har­ris

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