Crime, FNB and Saki Saki’s Afrikan­ers

Mbeki wasted an op­por­tu­nity to con­firm his own pre­con­cep­tion

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

THE FIRST NA­TIONAL BANK crime saga just re­fuses to go away, even though sen­si­bly FNB it­self has re­frained from fur­ther com­ment. But as the politi­cians strive to max­imise their po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal, the com­ments get in­creas­ingly out­ra­geous and serve only to em­pha­sise how wide the di­vi­sions in so­ci­ety still are 13 years into the new South Africa.

It started when my fel­low colum­nist Thabo Mbeki, wear­ing his other hat, said it would have been a waste of time writ­ing him let­ters about crime, as he would have paid them no at­ten­tion. Now cer­tainly we can’t ex­pect so busy a per­son to read all, or even any, of them him­self. How­ever, in a demo­cratic so­ci­ety he should at least weigh them as an in­di­ca­tor of how peo­ple ac­tu­ally feel.

It’s an old maxim in the me­dia that only a tiny frac­tion of peo­ple who feel strongly about an is­sue ever get around to writ­ing a let­ter to the ed­i­tor; so if, say, 50 000 peo­ple had writ­ten to Mbeki it would sug­gest that mil­lions of peo­ple are in fact con­cerned. On the other hand, if only 23 peo­ple wrote in it would sup­port his re­cent claim that the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple aren’t ac­tu­ally wor­ried about crime.

By dis­cour­ag­ing a write-in cam­paign Mbeki thus wasted an op­por­tu­nity to con­firm his own pre­con­cep­tion.

Then we have Defence Min­is­ter Mo­siuoa Lekota sug­gest­ing that we should ig­nore com­plaints about crime from wealthy ex­pats sit­ting in “the ex­ag­ger­ated com­fort of Euro­pean cities”.

He may be right, but the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of re­cent com­plaints con­cern­ing crime em­anate not from the frozen North but from much closer to home. And the fact that most vic­tims of crime are poor town­ship dwellers in no way de­tracts from the right of other so­cial classes to ex­press their views. It may be re­gret­table, but poverty con­trib­utes no moral or other author­ity.

It’s ironic that the past week has also brought a num­ber of me­dia sto­ries about the need to per­suade skilled ex­pats to re­turn and con­trib­ute to SA’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. Or­der­ing them to stop whinge­ing about crime will hardly help that cause.

But it’s not only cur­rent politi­cians who are stir­ring the pot. In a Sun­day news­pa­per, Saki Ma­co­zoma said the cam­paign threat­ens to de­stroy the trust that’s been built up be­tween busi­ness and Gov­ern­ment since 1994 and could cre­ate a rift “be­tween the rest [and] the Afrikaans-speak­ing com­mu­nity. Look at the peo­ple who have come be­hind FNB. They’re all Afrikaans.” That will, to put it mildly, come as a sur­prise to the likes of Ray­mond Ack­er­man and the prin­ci­pals of the SA arm of in­ter­na­tional ac­coun­tancy com­pany Grant Thorn­ton.

This, of course, is the same Ma­co­zoma who re­cently de­nied the ex­is­tence of the black mid­dle class that’s driv­ing so much of our eco­nomic growth. He’s also, coin- ciden­tally, like chief whis­tle-blower Derek Cooper, a di­rec­tor of FNB ri­val Stan­dard Bank. But I’m sure that didn’t in­flu­ence his what some might con­sider in­flam­ma­tory re­marks.

Not that or­gan­ised busi­ness has cov­ered it­self with glory, with its plain­tive won­der­ing why FNB should want to act on its own and not through, say, a body like Busi­ness Lead­er­ship SA. You may think that ques­tion an­swers it­self.

But the ul­ti­mate irony is that those cur­rently most crit­i­cal of FNB were also the most crit­i­cal of busi­ness pre-1994 for not speak­ing out against apartheid. What was sauce for the goose must surely be sauce for the gan­der?

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