Brad Cibane
Brad Cibane

So how did FNB manage to tickle the ANC’s studio?

When I heard about the troublesome First National Bank advert causing a stir with the political bigwigs I was on the Lyon TCL tramway, on my way home from a rather unpleasant encounter with French bureaucracy. I became so excited I was literally pacing up and down, hoping to use my superpowers to command the conductor to skip all the prochains arrêts! (next stops).

Let me explain my excitement. I am a law graduate who now studies international business law. My current studies are mostly interdisciplinary, focusing primarily on the interaction between law, business, economics and politics. The most exciting of these interdisciplinary subjects is business ethics. Business ethics questions the ethical conduct of business and moral responsibility (if any) of a corporation. Business ethics is interesting because it presents problems to which there is no legal formula.

The first thought that crossed my mind was “how incredibly stupid!” For me it was unfathomable that a publicly traded corporation — let alone a bank — would publicly call out government. Firstly banks operate a business that has a huge risk of regulation. Thus irrespective of the rhetoric about free speech, banks want to befriend government. Any change in “policy thinking” could see more regulation on the movement of money, on credit and even executive salaries.

It would be even dumber for a South African bank to openly challenge the ANC-led government, remembering the government that just saved banks from the wrath of Julius Malema and his angry youths.

FNB has no interest in aligning itself politically, considering that a number of ANC loyalists bank with FNB. The grapevine even says that the ANC membership account is with FNB.

FNB’s decision made no business sense.

There was also the question of hypocrisy considering the history of FNB. FNB was founded in 1838, more than a century before apartheid. There have been numerous allegations that South African banks were in bed with the apartheid government. Moreover there is no recorded instance — at least in my knowledge — where FNB bravely called out the National Party government. Why the change of tune I thought.

Lastly the financial services sector is not the most likely moral conductor, considering its primary role in creating the 2008 financial crisis. So I was very excited to see FNB, our own bank, leading the revolution against the morally-tainted financial services sector. I was so excited I actually downloaded the advert on my mobile.

The advert was mildly disappointing. While the young lady’s speech is moving, it was nothing like the description in the SACP’s statement or Jackson Mthembu’s rant. There are no angry mercenary children, no call to Pretoria Square, no books are thrown at Angie Motshekga’s wax statue. Damn it, we missed the Rainbow Nation Spring yet again! (Joke, not treason.)

So how did the ads manage to tickle the ANC’s studio?

To be honest with you I haven’t a clue what ticked off the ruling party. It’s either the ANC misunderstood the advert or a bunch of hormone-agitated 13 year olds are responsible for whispering things into Mthembu’s ear.

The said truth is that the ANC’s reaction decimated a real opportunity for government to engage business publicly.

An unsolved conundrum of business ethics concerns the social responsibility of businesses, the question being whether businesses should concern themselves with anything other than raking profits. Economist Milton Friedman is the most popular proponent of the assertion that the moral responsibility of a businessman is making profit. He argued that it is totalitarian to insist that managers should use shareholders property for social purposes. Friedman argued in the 1970s that: “In each of these cases, the corporate executive would be spending someone else’s money for a general social interest. Insofar as his actions in accord with his ‘social responsibility’ reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money. Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money. Insofar as his actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.”

This view is changing, however slowly. Business is getting involved in government’s developmental goals. In his 2012 budget speech Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said: “Both the National Development Plan and the New Growth Path recognise that to compete in the global economy requires flexibility, innovation and leadership, in government and the private sector.”

It is thus surprising that the ANC will publicly chastise a bank for engaging it on social issues. Not to say that FNB was being sincere but even if the ANC imagined that the speeches were targeted attacks by mercenaries dressed in school uniforms, there were far better calculated responses.

For example, an ANC that is really serious about development would have commended FNB on its initiative and called on FNB to show its commitment by pledging a portion (say 20%) of its annual turnover to fighting poverty. We would be having a different debate!

The ANC’s own structure is crumbling but the ground on which the ANC stands holds fast. The ANC is growing paranoid and the paranoia is eating the people’s movement from within.

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    • ‘whiteness’

      A paranoid National Party had a problem with Barclays Bank in South Africa before the Nats relinquished power. The CEO of Barclays Chris Ball chose to leave the country after harassment from the National Party. The paranoid Nats even saw the image of an AK 47 in the Barclays logo. Sure sign they were part of the ‘communist threat and the swart gevaar’!!!

      Is history merely repeating itself??

    • Loudly South African

      Brad, you need to do more research.

      FNB was NOT founded in 1838. You are maybe thinking of “Barclays Bank”, which pulled out of SA during the sanctions years, the local operation becoming “FNB” (Barclays re-entered SA recently, buying a stake in ABSA, the ultimate apartheid bank)

      Actually Chris Ball, the then CEO of FNB drew much flak from the Nats because of his support for the ANC. I even heard rumours from friends in the ANC that the MK, which was funding the ANC through bank robberies and cash-in-transit heists, was sparing FNB (I have never been able to substantiate this either way).

      “So how did the ads manage to tickle the ANC’s studio?”
      You have obviously been away too long – the ANC positively HATES any criticism. In fact it insists on “respect” and maintaining its leaders “dignity” more forcefully than a Mafia don.

    • Pingback: So how did FNB manage to tickle the ANC's studio? | Thought Leader | Property Finance()

    • The Creator

      Yeah. After Amplats the ANC badly needs to position itself as the heroes of the proletariat by whining about the banks, just as they were whining about the mining companies earlier.

      Naturally, they won’t actually do anything, since they are aspirant heroes of the plutocracy.

    • Tofolux

      @Brad, wow, this thinking is way too simplistic. But noting that you moot social responsibilities, moral conductors, ethics, law etc, one would expect a balanced conclusion which explored all known, tested and obvious probabalities. This highly emotive, very biased conclusion once again becomes an anti-govt rant. As a citizen of this country, it has become quite evident that since democracy business in particular has been a major stumbling block in rebuilding our country. They have acted as if they are a seperate constituency who has no responsibilites noting that there is apartheid evidence about their role, their handout and corruption pre-1994. eg. If you think that the Amplats announcement so soon after Mangaung is a co-incidence then think again.The problem however is that FNB is a business entity and the statement and stance not only takes them out of their business arena but into a terrain that holds many problems for them as business, their employees, their core message and their branding especially on the international platform. It is correct that they must be called to order and ask for an explanation. If you as business decide especially when elections is this close, to position yourself as an opposition to the very govt who ensures your material conditions, then be honest and declare that you are in opposition to this govt. Do not use children to make your political statements, thats immoral and wrong.

    • GrahamJ

      Nice, intellectual, assessment of the response from a vacuous administration under seige to a progressive organisation driving positive change.

      To borrow from Nedbank, ‘makes you think, doesn’t it?’

    • Genghiz

      I’d be proud to be called a traitor by the cANCer. It means I’m doing something every right-thinking South African should be doing.

    • Larry Lachman

      It must also be noted that the government is the biggest customer of banks in this country.
      I recall that just before the last general elections, Standard Bank donated R5 million to the ANC, and shortly after the elections the Ethekwini Municipal rates collection department sent notice of change of banking details in Standard Bank’s favour where it was previously with FNB.

      I would not be surprised if there is behind the scenes animosity driving this scandal.

    • Vyjjie Mentor

      Good Article Indeed!

    • Hugh Robinson

      Over all a pretty accurate observstion. The only reason why business is partnering in the development goals is that there is money to made from Government reticence. First roads, then Electricity now water is privatised in the guise of mutual co-operation where government gets the best of both worlds income, vat and direct taxes while the man in the street bled dry.

    • Tim Keys

      If I was the ANC, I would be more concerned that these views might be reflective of a section of the population that will be voting in a few years time.

    • Skerrminkel

      All in all the lady doth seem to protest too much. If I was in the marketing business, I would use criticism of the ANC as a very cheap marketing strategy. Think Nando’s and Fish & Chips Co.
      What is at least somewhat promising is that imbongi Mthembu paid some lip service to “discussions with FNB”.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I must admit, when I heard about the uproar, I thought I had been watching the wrong advert. I certainly didn’t see it as rude or even insulting to the government. It appeared to be simply a heartfelt call for everyone to work together to make things right. A message which the government, itself, totes out on a regular basis.

    • Charlotte

      @ Genghiz. Totally agree:
      Democracy is just a word they bandy around. How safe are we, as citizens? We have a government intent only on satisfying their own greed and self-enrichment and incapable of doing the job.

      What took place in Sasolberg is another example of what happens when a government is inept, self-serving and unable to run a country or wield any control.
      All illegal strikes and marches are now all ‘violent protests’ where workers and/or rent-a crowd thugs (incited to ‘have their demands met’) hurl rocks, throw litter, vandalise & burn property, cars, tyres,disrupt traffic, attack innocent people – kill , loot, pillage and go on the rampage. Negotiating with them is futile. They don’t and wont stop. They are out-of-control, dangerous and continue to break the law.
      Future job losses are inevitable. Businesses and industries are destroyed. Overseas investment is adversesly affected.
      The police are powerless and being blamed whether they take action or not.

      Zuma is a dud. But he is ANC appointed. Bottom line – it is the ANC itself have failed this country and have lead the way in the criminality ands corruption that besets us..

      So let’s call it what it is: From the highjacked acronym ANC (Arrogance, Nepotism Corruption) from cANCer we now have A-Nar-Chy.

    • Noob

      Aah yes, creator. As always, right to the crux with laser-like pricision.
      The ideological hypocrisy of our aspiring plutocrats is spellbinding

    • Albertus

      Brad, your article shows your acedemic background of a legal graduate. To even suggest that FNB should use 20% of turnover place your agruments in the category of “pub talk”. No corporate can use 20% of turnover to relieve poverty. Maybe a suggestion that they should allocate some profit to corporate social spending will show your knowledge of the subject of finance, and for that matter cash flow. With your lack of understanding of reality you would however qualify as a political speech writer, those speeches where the intention is good, but implementation impossible.

    • The Critical Cynic

      Another storm in a teacup from the now very thin-skinned and increasingly paranoid ANC who should have thought it through before putting down (and in some cases simply dropping) their moral compass and boarding the gravy train

      Government is in a position of ultimate responsibility, here and in every country, to act on behalf of and in the interest of the citizens. Surely that alone should be sufficient grounds for individuals and organisations to challenge the reality of living and operating in the environment for which government is responsible, especially.when they find that reality less than desirable

      Quite ironic for the ANC to call anyone traitors given the about turns they make on their own ideologies and high -minded social ideas. Even former ANC members call the current ANC the ultimate traitors to the people of this country. There’s a good chance that time will prove them right unless they get voted out of power soon

      I certainly question whether or not the ANC government is acting in the interest of the country and its citizens. I think sometimes they are, but even then always within the context of how it will affect themselves in a personal capacity. Their poor responsibility and accountability and general disrespect towards the people could easily be seen as more treasoness than the FNB advert. There’s certainly some merit in conducting a ‘witch hunt’ upon a change of government by rooting out and exposing the previous politically corrupt.

    • Paul Alvarez

      There is an over-riding principle we should all try to live by. We cannot please all the people all of the time and we should not try to! Trying to please everyone is like treading water until you drown. We have to be bold in life, make decisions, live by them and move on. We need the courage of our convictions to speak our minds, tell the truth and bear the consequences of our actions. To change one’s course when convinced of one’s moral compass is a sign of huge weakness. Reuel Khoze showed his conviction, but I’m not too sure about Sizwe Nxasana.

      I bank with FNB and I moan about their fees, rightly so in my opinion, my moral compass. Their service is however good so I stay with them, but I question this latest action, regardless of the diverse views expressed on it.

      Learn to live with your decisions and the consequences!

      Don’t be a whimp!

    • Tofolux

      Well, well, well. Now that FNB has done the right thing and apologised, it would only be the correct and moral thing for all of the above who defended FNB, to apologise. Not only did all those whom we know so well, shout so loudly from their anti-black wagons, they defended the indefensible. Personally for me, we should be very clear that the behaviour of some so-called citizens are highly questionable and this MUST be addressed at some point. For now, we call upon those who were/are wrong (once again) to apologise as well.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Well it is good to know that I wasn’t going mad. This wasn’t about the advert that I had seen, it was about two Youtube clips on their site. Unfortunately, they are no longer there and so I still have no clue what the fuss was about.

      Our media (and the ruling party) should really think about being more specific about what the argument is about.

    • Paul Alvarez

      Tofolux your postings on Thought Leader are usually very intelligent, even if I don’t always agree with you. You make me think and that’s good! Sometimes I agree with you and I welcome the change in my thinking.

      Your comment here on 28 January is however disturbing. You assume that because FNB has apologised, they were at fault! Go study the facts and the evidence and hopefully you’ll come to your senses and consider they were bullied, they abandoned their principles, they bowed down to Big Brother and like the weak and unprincipled, they took a decision based on commercial gain, rather than genuine beliefs! We have too many people like this in SA today! Turncoats who kiss the feet of whoever is in power!

      Love live Reuel Khoza! Long live!