Mr Mboweni's sharp tongue leaves a bad taste

By Time of article published Aug 18, 2003

Share this article:

By now there must be hardly a financial journalist in South Africa to whom Tito Mboweni has not been rude.

People who knew the governor of the Reserve Bank during his struggle days describe a man characterised by loyalty, kindness and a sense of humour, as well as courage and dedication.

But not much of the sense of humour or the kindness are visible today in the man who runs our central bank.

The problem is not his insistence on obscure brands of whisky, his snobbishness about wine or his pretentious cigars.

He is entitled to these peculiarities and most people would agree that someone who sacrificed years to the fight against apartheid deserves a slice of the good life.

He is entitled too, to be annoyed when newspapers quote him incorrectly, when his first name instead of his surname is used in headlines, or when reporters arrive late or inappropriately dressed for a Reserve Bank event.

(Journalists are notorious for being late and it does the profession no credit.)

Less acceptable, though, is Mboweni's very public peevishness with those who ask questions he considers irrelevant.

At the televised press conference after last week's monetary policy committee meeting, hardly any journalists asked questions.

This may be partly because the statement issued after the meeting was so comprehensive as to leave few questions unanswered. But it is also likely that many of the reporters present, still smarting from previous humiliations, were reluctant to expose themselves again on national television to the governor's sharp tongue.

Business Report's economics editor, Quentin Wray, did ask a question - and received a reply that was less than polite.

Mboweni does no favours to himself, the bank or the country with this sort of behaviour.

Intimidating journalists to the point where they dare not ask questions for fear of humiliation is hardly the way to make sure that central bank policy is understood by the population.

His contempt for journalists reveals something far more serious - a contempt for the people who read, listen to and watch what journalists produce in newspapers, on the radio and on television.

Other people in authority do not seem to have the same need to assert their power by engaging in a battle which by its nature is unequal.

Trevor Manuel, the minister of finance, is unfailingly courteous to journalists.

He may choose not to answer a question, but he does not humiliate the person who asked it.

After all, reporters who ask questions are only doing their job.

And, Mr Mboweni, there are no stupid questions.

There are only stupid answers.

According to The Mail & Guardian, ANC Gauteng secretary-general David Makhura told a Cosatu meeting that it was time "ultrarevolutionaries" were removed from the trade union movement.

His remarks are particularly inappropriate as the country prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

South Africa owes the trade unions a great debt for their role in the UDF and the fight against apartheid.

Slowly and painfully, over the years the labour movement developed a practice of democracy which contrasted with the secrecy imposed on the underground organisations by the apartheid government.

For many people, the trade unions were the nursery of democracy.

Without them, the outcome of the liberation struggle might have been very different.

Makhura should leave the unions to sort out their own affairs. Better still, he should watch them do it.

He might even learn something.

Share this article: