An FNB advertising campaign has sparked a furore, with the ANC and its youth league dubbing it treasonous and calling for a boycott of the bank.
The You Can Help campaign, generated through a survey known as the FNB Matchstick Project, reflects the views of 1 360 children, scholars and other young people in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. It can be viewed on www.youcanhelp.co.za. The participants’ responses were captured through a series of online videos and speeches and written essays and questionnaires.
One comment reads: “Our lives are destroyed by people who have too much power.” Another says: “The country is being overrun by poverty… while [President] Jacob Zuma is renovating his home.”
Shortly after the ANC Youth League condemned the campaign through Facebook, Twitter and media statements, the cyberbattle took off.
FNB swiftly and voluntarily removed some of the videos of children posted on YouTube.
The youth league said it was impossible to believe that a bank formed and sustained by the hard work and toil of the South African people could so crudely turn on the very people who guaranteed its livelihood.
On his Twitter account, FNB’s chief executive, Michael Jordaan, said: “Our message is simple: to remember what our great nation has achieved and remains capable of achieving by helping each other.”
The ANC mother body lambasted the lender, saying the ruling party was being attacked in a commercial masquerading as the views of young people.
“What is of concern to the ANC is that the advert content is undisguised political statement that makes random and untested accusations against our government in the name of discourse,” party spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.
The ANC Women’s League also joined the fray, calling for the bank to apologise to Zuma and Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga, who was said to be without brains, according to one of the clips.
The ANC’s reaction echoes recent comments made by Zuma to Bafana Bafana that there were too many critics of the national soccer team. “I was telling the team that others who are critics have never touched a football,” he had said.
The ANC’s sensitivity to criticism has surprised FNB, which expressed disappointment at the reaction.
“We undertook this exercise as we strongly believe that the children of South Africa have an important voice and are critical to the country’s future success,” FNB’s chief marketing officer, Bernice Samuels, said yesterday. She said the removal of the footage was carried out to protect the children and teenagers in the videos.
The survey showed that 70 percent of the participants conveyed a sense of hope about the country’s future.
One participant stated: “We have the right to freedom… but are we really free? A lot of opportunities have opened for us like the National Youth Development Agency… but we’re not going to them, we’re waiting for them to come to us… We have to stand up and do things for ourselves.”
Others still held on to former president Nelson Mandela’s legacy, praising the role he had played in the country.
“I was born in an epic era… We need to stop relying on government and rely on ourselves,” one KwaZulu-Natal tertiary student said. Another young person in the province said: “Our country is trying to be successful and its not stopping. We’re still developing.”
Paul Hoffman, the director of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, said this was history repeating itself. He referred to the canning of FNB’s 2007 anti-crime campaign during the tenure of former president Thabo Mbeki.
FirstRand’s then chief executive, Paul Harris, decided to axe the R20 million campaign. According to the administration at that time, spokesman Themba Maseko said it was inappropriate for the bank to act as an opposition party.
Last year Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza incurred the ANC’s wrath when he made reference to a degenerating moral quotient among political leaders and said the country was “fast losing the checks and balances that are necessary to prevent a recurrence of the past”.
FirstRand share price rose 0.27 percent to R33.09.