FNB bullied into submission
Rival blows whistle on crime campaign
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