AFTER editing a weekly magazine and a daily newspaper over the past 16 years, I can safely say that when, as is inevitable, you or your colleagues make a mistake it is far better that they make the mistake in the daily. That’s because you can apologise or correct it quickly. With a weekly you sit there for seven days while the results of your foolishness or neglect or laziness fester and spread.
So I have every sympathy for FirstRand CEO Sizwe Nxasana who, it was reported in the Sunday Times, sent a "pleading SMS" to Education Minister Angie Motshekga after discovering First National Bank (FNB), for which he is ultimately responsible, had posted on its website and on YouTube video clips of young school pupils calling the minister "brainless". "Good morning Minister," read the SMS. "I have instructed FNB to remove the video clips from their website this morning. I will investigate how and why the clips ended (up) on their website. Sincere apologies for this. Sizwe."
This and the subsequent apology to the ANC by Nxasana and FNB CE Michael Jordaan have been pounced on as evidence of cowardice, but that is just so much rubbish. What CEO in this country or any other for that matter would sanction a direct and personal attack on a Cabinet minister to be widely published and with the specific endorsement of his or her company logo next to it?
Most of the country may understand that the minister does, in fact, not have a brain. But it is not the job of a commercial enterprise to make the point. The media can, other "tough leaders" can — and those young children struggling to deal in their classrooms with Motshekga’s incompetence, should beg their parents not to vote again for a party that would be so uncaring as to put someone of her calibre into such an important job.
The fuss last week was inevitable. The ANC is inherently hysterical. So would your party be if it contained as many different ideologies, thieves, demagogues and hypocrites. It is incapable of responding thoughtfully to public criticism. It responds savagely to attacks by business or independent black voices because not only does it know what they say is generally true, but it fears the consequences of too much truth. Those young people talking about their future in the FNB ads are also talking about the future of the ANC, and it turns out to be bleak. So it has to be rubbed out.
The same would apply to the explanation given on Sunday by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, for the R248m spent on President Jacob Zuma’s home at Nkandla. We are asked to believe this is a modest private residence surrounded by a quarter-of-a-billion-rand fence and that the taxpayer only paid for the fence. Apparently the house was declared a National Key Point (we still don’t know when or why), but so what? Do all National Key Points get the Nkandla treatment? Fortunately for South Africa, not even schoolkids are fooled by lies like this. But if you are the ANC, the lie is the truth and there can be no deviation. Ever.
NEITHER do I have any problem with state-owned companies funding The New Age, the newspaper created to support the ANC. Hell, show me the media company that hasn’t gone cap in hand to Transnet, South African Airways, Eskom or such to "sponsor" a breakfast or a supplement or whatever the conceit of the day is. However, none of us, collectively even, have ever been as, um, lucky in the amount of public funding The New Age has been blessed with, but none of us have to kiss ass (though some papers do without any pressure at all) to come out the next day. I prefer it that way.
I HOPE readers will have noticed that Business Day’s coverage of the rest of Africa has improved markedly. Our Africa editor, Nick Kotch, has assembled a team of dedicated correspondents in key African economies and we are putting in a major effort at the AU summit in Addis Ababa. The key is to understand not only what Africa policy is but who makes it and how they make it — and then to measure our Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s success or otherwise in getting it implemented.